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A practical inquiry into soil-building, soil-conditioning and 

plant nutrition through the action of earthworms, 

with instructions for intensive propagation 

and use of Domesticated Earthworms 

in biological soil-building 



Thomas J. Barrett 

A third edition of this practical manual 
became immediately necessary because of its 
astounding demand around the world. But 
perhaps this demand is not so astounding 
when we consider a statement by Dorothy 
Canfield in the Jtook-of-t he-Month Club 
News: "Harnessing the Earthworm is a 
'reading book' for anybody with sense 
enough to know that our very lives depend 
on saving what top-soil the globe still has, 
and doing all that is possible to create condi- 
tions in which more can be made, and made 
more rapidly than by the haphazard leisurely 
methods of nature, which takes from five 
hundred to a thousand years to lay down one 
inch of top-soil." 

Reader's^Digestj in a thrilling story about 
Dr. Barrett's experiments and achievements 
and about this book, thus describes the work 
of the lowly but vital creature: "Earth- 
worms, by their ceaseless boring, keep the 
earth's crust friable; they transform vege- 
table and animal waste into rich humus; 
they change the earth's chemicals into solu- 
ble plant food; their countless trillions of 
tiny tunnels enable rain water and air to 
penetrate the soil." 

This first comprehensive volume on the 
subject is filled not only with fascinating 
reading but also, and more practically, with 
exact procedures for earthworm culture and 
for use of earthworms in general farming 
and orcharding. Part I discusses "The 

(Continued on back flap) 


From the collection of the 

7 n 

o Prelinger 
v Jjibrary 

San Francisco, California 



P. O. BOX 438 


A practical inquiry into soil-building, soil- 
conditioning, and plant nutrition through 
the action of earthworms, with instructions 
for intensive propagation and use 
of Domesticated Earthworms 
in biological soil-building. 




Copyright, 1947, by 


Boston, Mass. 

("Earthmaster Earthworm Culture Bed" copyright 
1942 by Thomas J. Barrett, Roscoe, California) 

(second printing) 1948 
(third printing) 1950 

Printed in the United States of America 


Prologue 9 


I. Humus 19 

The Humus Factory . . . The Earthworm 
Family . . . Intestines of the Earth . . . Why and 
How . . . The New Frontier 

II. The Earthworm in Nature 34 

III. The Earthworm in Scientific Literature 38 

Soil-Builders of Forest Lands . . . Mass Pro- 
duction of Topsoil on Farm Land . . . The Earth- 
worms of the Nile . . . Fertility of Earthworm 
Soil . . . Subsoil : Its Translocation and Mixing 
by Earthworms . . . Summary 

IV. Can It Be Done? 56 


V. A New Concept 61 

VI. Earthworms in General Farming 65 

"My Grandfather's Earthworm Farm" as told 
by Dr. George Sheffield Oliver. 

VII. Orcharding With Earthworms 76 

VIII. Domesticated Earthworms 84 

Characteristics . . . Domesticated Earthworms 
Versus Native Earthworms 

IX. Breeding Habits of the Earthworm 96 

X. Earthworm Culture 102 

Starting Earthworm Culture . . . Intensive Earth- 
worm Culture in Boxes . . . Utility Earthworm 
Culture Bed 

XI. Earthmaster Earthworm Culture Bed 131 

Materials Cut to Dimension . . . Construction De- 
tails and Assembly . . . Importance of Controlled 
Production . . . How to Service and Use the 
Earthmaster . . . Harvesting the Increase . . . 
Domesticated Earthworms 

XII. Earthworm Tillage 148 

"Earthworms : 150,000 to the Acre" by Williams 

XIII. Technical Discussion: Facts, Figures and References 153 

"The Chemical Composition of Earthworm 
Casts" by H. A. Lunt and H. G. M. Jacobson. 

XIV. The New Frontier 168 

The Gold Mine in the Sky ... 1000 Pounds of 

Dry Vegetation 

Conclusion Summary 176 

Index . 181 


Diagram of Alimentary Canal of Earthworm 27 

The Rainworm ; The Brandling facing 32 

Dr. George Sheffield Oliver facing 49 

Native Earthworm 91 

Domesticated Earthworm 95 

Egg Capsules facing 96 

Domesticated Earthworm Eggs 99 

Lugbox, front and side view 107 

Earthworm Culture in Lugboxes ; A Double-Handful Domes- 
ticated Earthworms facing 113 

Detail Plan for Lugbox Earthworm Culture 120 

Base Support and Dividers for Lugbox 121 

Utility Culture Bed (I) 128 

Utility Culture Bed (II) 129 

Utility Culture Bed (III) 130 

The Earthmaster Culture Bed facing 136 

Earthmaster Culture Bed, Plans (I) 145 

Earthmaster Culture Bed, Plans (II) 146 

Earthmaster Culture Bed, Plans (III) 147 

Christopher Gallup; Spring- tooth Harrow facing 150 

Of earthworms: "It may be doubted whether 
there are many other animals which have played 
so important a part in the history of the world 
as have these lowly organized creatures." 



"THE MILLS of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding 
small," sang the poet Longfellow. As the mind glances back 
through geological ages, we see the "mills of God" at work wind 
and water, fire and flood, frost and sun, cosmic convulsion and 
seismic upheaval all uniting in preparation of earth's surface 
for the coming of life. We see form take shape from substance, 
see order emerge from chaos. The primordial mists fade and 
life slowly spreads over the low surfaces of the earth vegetation, 
animal, man. The seasons in orderly procession come and go; 
law rules. The eternal cycle of nature has been established 
from earth, through life, back to earth. 

In contemplative mood, we hold a handful of rich, dark 
earth humus. It is without form, yet within it all forms are 
potential. It is without structure, yet within it all the wonders 
of civilization sleep. It appears dead, yet within it all life re- 
sides. Negligently we toss it to the ground. A movement 
focuses our attention. What is that small, living thing we have 
so rudely disturbed? Why, it is an earthworm just a poor, 
naked, blind worm, without tooth or claw, no weapon of offense 
or defense, no feet to run away, no mind to be afraid. And yet, 
for a moment we have held within our hand one of the "mills 
of God," one of the major forces which have wrought mightily 
upon the face of the earth that life may exist and continue to 


Back of the generalizations of science are the epic stories of 
mankind. "Water seeks its own level" is a generalization. "So 
what?" is the instant question that springs into the modern, 
curious, inquiring, practical mind. To answer this question in 
detail it woulld be necessary to write the story of the develop- 
ment of plant and animal life on this planet the development 
of agriculture, irrigation and power, the machine age, navigation, 
the joining of oceans by canals, the conquest of the air by air- 
planes, the annihilation of space by radio, the exploration into the 
infinite reaches of the universe by astronomers, and all the 
amazing phenomena of present-day civilization which have 
followed because of the simple fact that water seeks its own 

Because water runs down hill, the great catch-basins of the 
earth oceans, lakes, depressions, the substrata of the earth it- 
self are filled and maintained as storage reservoirs of this basic 
essential of life. 

"Earthworms excrete humus" is a generalization which 
epitomizes the important findings of science in the study of these 
lowly organized animals. "So what?" comes again the instant, 
practical question. It is with the answer to this question a little 
question with a big answer that this inquiry deals. Back of the 
generalization "earthworms excrete humus" is another epic story 
which would require volumes adequately to tell. This inquiry 
is concerned with the practical side of the story. "Harnessing 
the Earthworm" is the theme of this book. The theme-song of 
the book is "Earthworms Excrete Humus." 

In the light of modern development and utilization of water 
power, it is difficult to realize that for ages man watched the 
quick-flowing rivers running down to the sea, with their un- 
controlled destructive action, before he even conceived of the 
possibility of harnessing water power in a primitive way for his 
own use. 

When we inspect a magnificent ocean liner, or study the 
miracle of modern commerce and war on the seven seas, it takes 


an almost impossible flight of the imagination to go back to the 
point where the first faint idea of power-navigation was born in 
the dim-lit .brain of some low-browed, prehistoric man as he in- 
stinctively clung to a flood-borne tree and rode to safety on some 
lee shore. Other ages passed before some primitive Edison 
proudly presented the first dugout canoe to his amazed world 
a miracle of creation which he had painstakingly hacked and 
hollowed out with a crude stone implement. For still other ages 
primitive man pushed and poled and paddled his unwieldy dug- 
out about in the safe shallows of the shore waters, until some 
venturesome Columbus got caught off-shore in the teeth of a 
gale. As he stood up in the prow of his canoe perhaps in a 
last despairing call upon his gods his body became a mast and 
a sail, speeding him to safety on the wings of the wind, while 
the idea of power-navigation took hold of his groping imagi- 
nation and awakening intelligence. 

Thus it was in the case of agriculture. The obvious possi- 
bility of tilling the soil and growing his food did not occur to 
the mind of man until very late in the history of the race. He 
wandered over the face of the earth in search of precarious 
sustenance, subject to the vicissitudes of the elements and often 
facing famine. Only with the coming of agriculture and a sure 
supply of food was man able to settle down in one place and 
develop from a wandering tribe into a nation of people, rooted 
in the soil of permanent habitation. 

In even a superficial study of the ideas which have influenced 
civilization, the inevitable conclusion must be reached that the 
birth and development of agriculture is the greatest of all in- 
ventions, the father-mother foundation of life and progress in 
civilization as we know it. Food came first, food still comes 
first, and the production of food is still the universal and prime 
occupation of man. 

In spite of all the inventions and mechanization that have 
taken place in the development of agriculture the vast industry 
for the chemical fertilization of the soil, the improvement and 


diversification of food plants and animals, the processing and 
preservation of foods, the great research laboratories, experiment 
stations and agricultural colleges all these things yet remain 
mere superficial adjuncts to facilitate nature's own methods. 
Like the utilization of water power, modern agriculture is simply 
an exploitation of the natural resources and forces of nature, 
through the adaptation and ingenuity of man. The dam is not 
the river, the ship is not the ocean, the sail is not the wind. And 
in agriculture, nature yet remains "Mother Nature" and the 
human race is still a breast-fed infant, drawing its sustenance and 
nutrition from the good earth through processes of fertility, 
fertilization, and growth which have not been improved upon. 

Studying the progressive destruction of the soil on this con- 
tinent by mechanized methods, agricultural soil-robbers, and 
erosion, we realize the futility of chemical fertilization and turn 
to a study of nature's perfect method. We are struck by the 
outstanding contrast between the two methods : ( 1 ) Through 
chemical fertilization and mechanization, with its progressive and 
inevitable depletion of the natural fertility of the soil, man seeks 
to feed the plant to meet the temporary and immediate call for 
more and quick profits; (2) nature, through her method, seeks to 
build soil in a continuous cycle which can meet with abundance 
all present and temporary needs for food production, but at the 
same time provide with growing fertility a soil which will 
support in abundance the countless unborn generations of the 

In a study of the soil-building methods of nature, we have 
found a force at work in the earth the earthworm which 
appears to have been evolved for the specific job of rebuilding 
foe soil from the biological end-products of plant and animal life. 
We have found this force at work throughout the earth from 
the far north to the far south, from east to west, from sea-level 
to the high plateaus and high into the mountains quietly, 
swiftly, efficiently, like a good undertaker, restoring to the soil in 


usable form everything that [ had Jbeenjtaken .out of it in the life 
cycle from earth, through life, back to earth. 

And through contemplation of the vast activities of these 
lowly creatures, a force in nature comparable to water-power in 
its potentialities, an idea was born the harnessing of the earth- 
worm for the intensive use of man. 

From every region of the globe the products of field and 
forest, orchard and garden, rivers, lakes and oceans, ranches and 
stock farms, flow in a never-ending and ever-increasing stream 
to the great centers of population. Thus by untold millions of 
tons each year the widely diffused fertility of the earth is 
gathered up and concentrated in restricted areas, far removed 
from the possibility of rebuilding the soil at the original source 
of production. A problem facing civilization today eventually 
the problem of continued existence itself is the problem of re- 
building the soil, of restoring to the earth in immediately usable 
form for plant food the biological end-products of civilization, 
with the vast tonnage of organic waste material incident to the 
growing and processing of food for both man and animals. 

The solution of this problem is the next great step in human 
progress and, once more, it becomes a question of man's con- 
quest over the potential forces of nature and their adaptation 
to further his own destiny. This time it is a docile, willing, 
friendly, harmless, easily controlled force the earthworm 
complementing and supplementing all the other constructive 
forces of nature. 

The fact that earthworms excrete humus is just about as 
important in its relation to man as the fact that water flows down 
hill. That intimate, finely divided mixture, with chemical com- 
pounds humus, topsoil, homogenized earth possibly the most 
mysterious substance know to science, is the one basic source of 
plant and animal life. From a strictly practical standpoint, the 
body of the earthworm is nature's own complete, perfect factory 
for manufacturing this substance quickly and in sufficient 
quantity to answer all the nutritional needs of man. In con- 


sidering the earthworm, we do not exclude other forces of nature 
just as important in the biological processes of soil-building, but 
it so happens that the earthworm is one major force in nature 
which can easily be placed under control, propagated and ex- 
ploited for human use in an intensive manner, just as other forces 
of nature, such as water power and electricity, have been adapted 
to the service of man. 

In developing the idea of harnessing the earthworm, we are 
not dealing with theory, wild speculation or wishful thinking 
we are dealing with facts. For generations scientists, students, 
experimenters and practical tillers of the soil have studied the 
earthworm and recorded its value in nature. Many individuals 
have adapted its activities to their own use and profit. Others 
have carried out selective breeding and feeding experiments over 
a period of many years in developing what we have termed 
"domesticated' earthworms," peculiarly adapted to intensive 
production under control, together with the best methods of 
propagation, feeding, and practical utilization in the modern 
scheme of life as it is lived. 

Our task in this inquiry is to cull out, boil down and 
present the facts pertinent to the subject of harnessing the earth- 
worm in such a manner as to inspire the reader to go to work 
and prove to himself, through actual demonstration, the possibili- 
ties in store for him. To cover the subject in all its related de- 
tails would require years of study and volumes of exposition. 
Scientific studies of the earthworm are voluminous, taking in a 
period of more than two hundred years, with references dating 
back to the time of ancient Greece and Egypt. In our search for 
material we have delved into scientific and other literature 
books on zoology, biology, botany, agriculture, horticulture, 
special articles in magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, agricultural 
bulletins, experiment station records, and similar sources. 

We have also spent some years of work in practical research 
and experimentation, verifying the claims about earthworms 
which we found in the literature on the subject. Incidental to 


the writing of this book, we established the Earthmaster Farm 
for earthworm research, taking a semi-desert, infertile hillside 
and turning it into a homesite of almost tropical luxuriance, with 
the aid of earthworms in soil-building, so that neighbors and 
visitors marvel at what we have accomplished with unfavorable 
land and in a very short time. 

In presenting our findings, we will use quotations, comments, 
personal experiences and observations, interviews and practical 
experiences of individuals who have . harnessed the earthworm 
and proved its value, letters from earthworm culturists, and other 
testimony. It is our object to present just enough material to 
show clearly the possibilities inherent in harnessing the earth- 
worm for intensive human use. In some instances we may 
digress, but to subjects which have a direct bearing on the task in 

This book is not a treatise, but it is intended as an inspiration 
to further study and to practical action. 

It has been said that the first thing to do with a fact is to 
recognize it and the practical thing to do with a fact is to use it. 
We present the facts for your recognition and use and dedicate 
this work to all those who love the soil and the eternal cycle of 
life which springs from it. 

Earthmaster Farms 
Roscoe, California 


The Earthworm and Its Environment 


ALL FLESH is one, including man, in its demand for nutrition 
to survive, but man alone demands infinitely more that mere nutri- 
tion. Through his conquest over the forces of nature, man has 
adapted himself to all conditions and environments and lives 
wherever there is air to breathe on the surface of the earth, in 
the sky, under the earth, on the surface of the waters, under the 
sea. His frozen footprints are preserved for future ages in the 
regions of the north pole and the trail of the tractor pushes 
steadily into the unexplored continent locked in everlasting win- 
ter around the south pole. His air-conditioning creates a cool 
spot for luxurious comfort astride the equator, and he squats non- 
chalantly within the rim of boiling volcanic cauldrons and takes 
the temperature of mother earth and diagnoses her fevers and 

To serve the demands of the ubiquitous adaptability of man, 
to speed up production of necessities and luxuries for his use, to 
create new and useful things to satisfy his growing needs and de- 
sires, are some of the practical ends of scientific research. Be- 
cause of his adaptability and conquest over the forces of nature, 
man has cut loose from his mother's apron strings the earth 
and we find the populations of civilization throughout the world, 
in large part, marooned on the islands of villages, towns, and 
cities, segregated and separated from the land vast aggregations 
of restless, discontented children, playing with the machines and 



toys which science and invention have provided and uniting in a 
mighty cry and cosmic bawl for food. 

Let the flow of food to the cities stop for a single day, and 
its cessation is headline news. Let the flow stop for two days, 
and it becomes tragedy of major proportions. Let it stop for a 
week, and panic seizes the people as starvation takes hold. 

In checking over the annual requisition of the human family 
for food and supplies, we are staggered by such items as these: 
Rush the harvest of 4,954,000,000 bushels of wheat, and prepare 
366,000,000 acres of land for replanting. Husk 4,9142,000,000 
bushels of corn and prepare 209,100,000 acres of land for re- 
planting. Round up 182,365,000 head of cattle for beef and but- 
ter, milk and shoes. Ship 38,159,000 bales of cotton to the fac- 
tories, with 3,692,000,000 pounds of wool, that we may be clothed 
and kept warm. And in the United States, where we are pecu- 
liarly peanut-conscious, we find a small item of 1,291,655,000 
pounds of peanuts ; also a citrus -fruit item of 67,067,000 boxes. 

In the annual Year Book of the United States Department 
of Agricultural Statistics, several hundred pages of fine print are 
required to tabulate and report on the annual food crops of the 
United States and the world. We have mentioned a few of the 
major items that are included in the annual demands of the hu- 
man family for food and clothing. We have briefly indicated the 
size of the order to call attention to the fact that ^the^basic^source 
of all these materials is humus, the immediately usable supply of 
which is concentrated in the eighteen-inch surface crust of the 
earth and in the more favored and very limited areas of the globe. 
And humus is not found in inexhaustible mines below the sur- 
face of the earth in the better soils it diminishes almost to th 
vanishing point at a depth of thirty-six inches. It is there 
tentially, just as food is potentially present in the crude elements 
of the earth. 

JHumus is the end product of plant and animal life and must 
be created for current use from day to day and season to season. 
In the cycle of nature, the available material must be used over 


and over ; it is nature's method to convert, transmute, disintegrate, 
rebuild. All vegetation, all life, contributes its quota. From the 
single-celled yeast plant floating in the wind to the majestic 
sequoia gigantea, towering nearly three hundred feet into the air, 
from microbe to man all have been couched in the bedding 
ground of humus. And all eventually find their way to the com- 
mon burial place the compost heap o$ nature to be converted 
into humus and serve in the unbroken cycle of nature. 

For the most part, the populations of the earth dwell along 
seashores and lakes, along rivers in the valleys, and in the low- 
lying foothills and great plains of the torrid and temperate zones, 
where the great humus factories of nature are located. Because 
water runs down hill, this is so. From the dust-laden winds of 
the desert, from star dust and the dust of disintegrating comets 
and planets, from the weathered face of the rocks and hills and 
mountains, nature gathers her materials, and from the mother- 
waters of the sea she creates the rains and washes the atmos- 
phere. And in the end, from the millions of square miles of high 
ground, the waters find their way into all the settling basins of 
the earth to deposit the elements of life in the humus factories 
of nature. 


In her vast humus factories, nature uses many processes 
slow combustion, chemical disintegration, bacterial decomposi- 
tion, fermentation, heat, light, darkness, wind and rain, frost and 
sun and earthworms; all these unite, finally to form that thin 
surface layer of dark earth in which life is rooted. As volumes 
have been written and are constantly being written on these many 
processes through which nature attains her ends, we will not 
burden these pages with detailed discussion on this subject. Suf- 
fice it to say that many of the processes are slow, requiring years, 
centuries, ages yes, aeons of time; for the first thin blanket of 
parent material of humus which was spread over the surface of 


the earth in preparation for the birth of life was the deposit of 
star dust, disintegrating planets and comets, and the invisible par- 
ticles brought to the earth by the rays of the sun and other whirl- 
ing bodies which are scattered, like wind-blown particles of dust, 
throughout the infinite reaches of space. 

Taking the earth as we find it, the creation of humus from 
dead vegetation and animal life is usually a process measured in 
terms of weeks and months, or a number of years, with one no- 
table exception: When a requisition is put in for a few million 
tons of humus, to be prepared over niffht for emergency plant 
food for tomorrow, nature marshals her vast earthworm army to 
a feast; and, behold, the miracle is accomplished the order is 
filled and the crying children of the plant world are fed the 
night-soil of earthworms, castings, is deposited on and near the 
surface of the earth, ready for immediate use for earthworms 
excrete humus. No waiting, no worry, no confusion just the 
ordinary routine, daily transaction of business in the humus fac- 
tories of nature. 

Earthworms are the shock-troops of nature for the jjuick. 
production of humus while she is waiting upon her slower pro- 
cesses. Climaxing her millions of years of experimentation, she 
created in miniature a perfect humus mill, easily adapted to the 
use of man. In the body of tfre earthworm we find a complete, i 
high-speed humus^ factory^ combining all the processes both) 
mechanical and chemical for turning out the finished product, I 
topsoil, properly conditioned for best root growth and contain- \ 
ing in rich proportion and in water-soluble form all the elements 
required of the earth for plant nutrition. 


For detailed information and classification of earthworms in 
general, we refer the reader to the voluminous writings on the 
subject of "Earthworms" which may be found in the Zoology 
section in the reference department of most public libraries. We 


are interested in the function and work of the earthworms rather 
than in a study of the animal from a zoological standpoint. 

While many hundreds of species, including marine worms, 
are comprised in the order Phylum annelida, our interest centers 
in the \_Oligochaeta jand that portion known to science as the 
"small-bristled ringed worm." They are distributed all over the 
planet, including the islands of the sea, from the tropics to ex- 
treme northern and southern latitudes, except in the arctic and 
sub-arctic regions and glacial and sub-glacial regions where the 
ground may be frozen to great depths over long periods of time. 

In size, earthworms range all the way from small worms of 
almost microscopic dimensions to giant annelids measuring from 
three feet to eleven feet long. The large members of the family 
are found in certain parts of South America, Africa, Ceylon and 
Australia. The largest of the giant worms, Megascolides Austra- 
lis, is found in Australia, where authentic measurements of worms 
up to eleven feet in length have been made. 

In the torrid and temperate zones more than one thousand 
^eciej of earthworms (some authorities say more than 1800) 
live and procreate. Whatever the name, size, or habitat, earth- 
worms have one important characteristic in common they swal- 
low the earth with all that it contains, and in the process of di- 
gestion and elimination excrete practically neutral humus top- 
soil rich in water-soluble nutrients for plant life. 

Narrowing the field down still more to the particular pur- 
pose of this inquiry, we are interested in the group of earthworms 
common to the United States and known under various popular 
and colloquial names, such as "angleworms," "dewworms," "night 
crawlers," "night lions," "fishworms," "rainworms," etc. The 
last name, "regenwurm," is very generally used in the extensive 
German literature on the subject. 

For practical purposes and for reasons given later, we shall 
eliminate from consideration all worms except the 
(Lumbricus terrestris), illustrated in Fig. 1, and thefBranHTu 


or stinking earthworm (Helodrilus foetidus), illustrated in Fig. 
2. The brandling is commonly known as the manure worm. 

I rainworm/ is a native of the fields and forest lawns, gar- 
dens, orchards, meadows, and pastures. It commonly lives in the 
upper eighteen inches of soil, devouring ceaselessly, day and 
night, dead roots, leaves, and all dead organic materials, digest- 
ing and utilizing them to serve its bodily needs and finally eject- 
ing humus in the form of castings the manure of earthworms. 
But the rainworm is not entirely concerned with the thin surface 
layer of the earth, though that surface layer is its main feeding 
and breeding ground. It quite generally burrows to a depth of 
jfive or six feet, and earthworm burrows have even been found at 
depthes of from ten to fourteen feet. From these deep burrows 
into the subsoil the earthworm returns to the surface, bringing 
new mineral parent material for topsoil and depositing it in the 
form of castings. These castings from the deep layers of the 
earth surface are not just sterile, mineralized earth. In the jour- 
ney through the alimentary canal of the worm they have under- 
gone chemical changes, taken on new material, been ground and 
thoroughly mixed, and when they are deposited on and in the 
immediate surface of the earth this new material has become 
humus-laden topsoil, ready for immediate use by growing vegeta- 

In the colder climates, the rainworm burrows deep below the 
frost line during the winter season, lying dormant while the 
ground is frozen, but coming to the surface as soon as the spring 
thaw has warmed the earth. However, the rainworm is very 
hardy, remains active in quite low temperatures, and has even 
been observed in slushy snow. 

Under particularly favorable conditions, the rainworm often 
attains a length of twelve inches or more. A more usual length 
for a fully mature rainworm is five or six inches, with an average 
length of eight inches. 

The(1brano!iinfr or manure worm] (Helodrilus -foetidus), is 
a small, very active, very prolific worm, characterized by a dis- 


agreeable odor when crushed or injured. Its favorite habitat is 
manure piles and compost heaps, hence its name "manure worm." 
Contrary to general belief, however, the manure worm readily 
adapts itself to the same environments favored by the rainworm. 
The brandling gorges voraciously on manure and decaying vege- 
tation, digesting, deodorizing and converting all such material into 
rich, clean humus, with an odor similar to fresh turned meadow 
earth. The castings of the manure worm, like those of the rain- 
worm and the many other species of earthworms, contain a very 
high percentage of water-soluble plant nutrients. 

The manure worm is not a deep-burrowing worm like its 
relative the rainworm, but prefers to work in the surface areas 
under rotting vegetation, manure, and other decaying materials. 
However, after becoming adapted to the soil, it is soon a good 
burrower and will take care of itself in almost all climates. The 
manure worm is found widely distributed throughout the United 
States and in Europe, both in the southern as well as in the colder 
latitudes. In size, it may attain a length of six inches or more, 
but in measuring a large number of mature manure worms we 
determined an average length of about four inches. In intensive 
propagation and use of earthworms, size is important and the 
smaller varieties can be utilized with better results than can the 
larger worms. This point will be emphasized later. 

Finally, when we come to the subject of the intensive propa- 
gation and use of earthworms in soil-building for agriculture, hor- 
ticulture, orcharding, nursery, and home gardening, we shall dis- 
cuss somewhat at length what we have termed "domesticated 
earthworms." The term "domesticated" is applied to earthworms 
which have been developed through selective breeding and feed- 
ing methods in a controlled environment especially created to fa- 
vor intensive propagation, as opposed to native earthworms which 
are found in most fertile, well-watered soils. 

From this brief discussion of the earthworm family, we pass 
to a consideration of the feeding habits and digestive functions 
of earthworms, which make them possibly the most valuable ani- 
mals on earth. 


We are indebted to the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, 
for the apt phrase which literally describes the function of these 
master-builders of topsoil. He called earthworms "intestines of 
the earth/* W. L. Powers, Soil Scientist, Oregon Agricultural 
Experiment Station, termed the earthworm a Colloid mill." This, 
too, is a very good descriptive name to indicate the activity of 
earthworms in soil-building. They literally serve as colloid mills 
to produce the intimate chemical and mechanical homogenized 
mixture of fine organic and inorganic matter which forms their 
castings. In the mixing which takes place in the alimentary canal 
of the earthworm, the ingested materials undergo chemical 
changes, deodorization and neutralization, so that the resultant 
castings (manure) are a practically neutral humus, rich in water- 
soluble plant food, immediately available for plant nutrition. 

As flexible as silk, as strong as steel these similes may well 
describe the bodv of an earthworm. Known as one of the 

strongest animals innature for its size, an earthworm weighing 
less than one-thirtieth of an ounce may move a stone weighing 
as much as two ounces. The family name, annelida, derived 
from the Latin word anellus (a ring), is graphically descriptive 
of the earthworm, whose body is formed by a series of from 200 
to 400 muscular rings (more or less, depending on the species), 
closely woven togethei to form a tube of great strength, stream- 
lined to the ultimate for functional performance. 

Considered primarily, man himself is an organism of bone 
and muscle, brain and nervous system, organ and tissue, inte- 
grated around a digestive tube the alimentary canal about 
thirty feet long. The earthworm is a digestive tube alone, strip- 
ped of all external incumbrance which might interfere with its 
life-function of digestion and equipped with just enough instinc- 
tive intelligence to carry out its feeding activities without too fine 

Thus, everything which opposes itself to the blind attention 
of the earthworm becomes something to be devoured. When a 









(After Charles Darwin) 


stone too large to swallow is encountered, the worm eats its way 
around, giving the surface a chemical treatment in passing and 
possibly sucking off a few choice morsels from the weathered 
surface. If small enough, the particle is swallowed, to serve as 
a millstone in the gizzard while being subjected to the solvent 
action of acids and alkalies so abundantly provided in the digestive 
secretions. If a piece of tough cellulose, such as dry leaf stem, 
twig, or bit of wood, is met with, it may be coated with a saliva- 
like secretion and left to soften (perhaps for days or weeks), 
later to resume its journey of disintegration and digestion through 
the tubular intestinal mill. Figuratively speaking, the worm says 
"the world is my oyster," and proceeds literally to swallow 
it with everything it may contain. 

To be more specific, in action the earthworm employs the 
^principle of the hydraulic drill, softening the earth in front of it, 
if necessary, with its secretions and sucking it into its mouth. 
Thus, blindly, the worm eats its dark way through the densest 
earth, including tough, compact adobe and clay soils riddling and 
honeycombing the soil to a depth of ten feet or more with aerat- 
ing tunnels or burrows, as it swallows the earth with all that it 
contains dead roots, vegetable and animal remains, bacteria, the 
minute and microscopic vegetable life of the soil, and mineral 
elements. Being truly a blind dweller of the dark, highly sen- 
sitive to light, the earthworm is a nocturnal animal, coming to 
the surface at night to feed on organic litter. By day it pushes 
slow tunneling operations below the surface, the softened and 
almost liquified material finding its way into the storage space 
of the worm's crop. 

Paul Griswold Howes, Curator of Natural History at the 
Bruce Museum of Natural History, gives a concise statement of 
the feeding habits of worms in his wonderfully interesting book, 
Backyard Exploration, as follows: 

Worms are the most numerous at the surface of the ground 
at night . . . They come to the surface to feed, as they are truly 
nocturnal animals . . . They do actually consume large quantities 


of vegetable matter not living leaves and grass, but the dead 
and dying vegetable matter that lies upon the ground. Holding 
fast in their burrows by the tail-end, the worms reach out in all 
directions, stretching themselves to great lengths and grasping 
bits of food, which they pull below the surface. Here, part of the 
material is eaten, while vast quantities of it pass into vegetable 
mould that helps to make other plants grow. [Editorial note: 
All vegetable remains not immediately consumed, are eventually 
eaten and pass through the alimentary canals of worms in their 
final transformation into humus or soluble plant food.] 

In addition to the vegetable matter which the worms eat, great 
quantities of soil also pass through this vast army. From this 
soil they assimilate what is useful to them, leaving the remainder 
each night upon the surface in the lobed and familar castings 
which everyone has seen. Stop for a minute to consider the 
countless individual worms which inhibit every acre of ground. 
Think then of the weight and depth of a single year's castings 
that are left upon the surface and you will begin to realize that 
the worms are actually responsible for the ploughing and turning 
over of the earth as the years go by. 

Continuing our journey through the earthworm, all the in- 
gested material vegetable matter, animal matter, living and dead 
bacteria, mineral earth, small stones, etc. passes into the crop 
and thence into the gizzard as a semi-liquid, plastic mass, carry- 
ing its own grindstones. In the gizzard everything is subjected 
to the grinding, disintegrating and mixing action of this efficient 
organ, as the abundant digestive juices are poured in to exert 
their chemical and solvent action. No form of organic material 
escapes, for the digestive secretions of the earthworm are similar 
to those of the higher animals, including the human family. Car- 
bohydrates, fats, proteins, cellulose all are grist for the mill of 
the earthworm; for anything that cannot be digested is at least 
so finely comminuted that no structural form remains. 

Special mention should be made of the highly remarkable 
calciferous glands which are located in the walls of the esophagus 
of the earthworm. Nothing like them is known in any other ani- 
mal. These calcium-secreting glands pour out abundant quanti- 


ties of fluid rich in calcium, which exerts its neutralizing action 
upon the acids of the organic and inorganic mass of material 
which daily passes through the alimentary canal of the earth- 
worm a quantity which may equal or exceed its own weight 
every twenty- four hours. 

The anterior one-third of the worm's body contains the vital 
organs and organs of the digestive system, including the calcif- 
erous glands, crop, gizzard, and reproductive organs. The re- 
maining two-thirds contains the intestine. As stated before, the 
entire worm is comprised in a muscular tube of from two hun- 
dred to four hundred strongly contractile muscular rings, the 
number of rings varying in different species. 

Continuing with the digestive process, after being discharged 
from the gizzard into the intestine, the material is subjected to 
further mixing action as it is moved slowly along the alimentary 
canal, taking on valuable added elements from the intestinal and 
urinary secretions in which it is continually bathed. Particularly 
valuable is the admixture of the urinary secretions, on account 
of the ammonia content. In Principles and Practice of Agricul- 
tural Analysis, Dr. Harvey W. Wiley states : 

A considerable portion of the ammonia in the soil at any 
given time may also be due to the action of worms, as much as 
.018 per cent of this substance having been found in their excre- 
ment [castings]. It is probable that nearly the whole of the vege- 
table matter in the soil passes sooner or later through the alimen- 
tary canal of these ceaseless soil-builders, and is converted into 
the form of humus. 

In its passage through the worm, whatever nutriment that 
may be necessary for the worm's own body-building and func- 
tioning is absorbed from the humidified, semi-liquid, and emulsi- 
fied material. After having performed this nutritional function, 
the material is finally ejected as castings such finely divided, 
thoroughly homogenized earth that only chemical analysis can 
resolve it into its component parts. In other words, the ulti- 
mate end-product of the activity of earthworms is humus the 


clean, sweet-smelling subtstance of new-turned earth the bed- 
ding, rooting and growing material of life itself. 


In considering the soil-building possibilities inherent in har- 
nessing the earthworm, the subject matter naturally falls under 
two main headings, viz: "Why It Can Be Done" and "How It 
Can Be Done." The preceding sections have been introductory 
to these two divisions. As a preliminary generality, we might 
say, "The reason it can be done is because it has been done." The 
remaining chapters of this book are really an elaboration of this 

At this point we feel justified in a brief digression to con- 
sider the practical purposes of soil-building, as we conceive it. 

Collectively, we think of man as the master of the earth, 
through his universal adaptability harnessing, controlling, and 
directing the forces of nature. Through this adaptability, the 
present-day environment of man has become the entire earth. 
Thanks to his ability to comprehend, direct and utilize the forces 
of nature, he can now live in comparative comfort wherever there 
is air to breathe. Nevertheless, today and in all the days to come, 
each individual is encompassed by his own particular environ- 
ment and must work out his own salvation in that environment. 

Philosophically, we listen to the full-bellied poet blithely sing, 
"I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul." But until 
the individual can paraphrase the poet with a more literal and 
practical statement, "I am the master of the earth, the captain of 
the soil," he is liable to live in insecurity and fear of the future. 

Security what a comforting word! Security means ade- 
quate food a roof over one's head clothes on one's back a 
place in the sun freedom from fear no apprehension for the 
future. To the individual who desires surely to build security 
for himself and his loved ones, we hope to bring a knowledge of 


the means through which he may become the literal master of 
his own earth. 

All the necessities, comforts, satisfactions, and luxuries of 
civilization wait upon the production of food and food comes 
from topsoil. As a master-builder of topsoil throughout the ages, 
the earthworm in nature has played a leading role. Under scien- 
tific control and intensive propagation, the earthworm is destined 
to play a major part in the future development of topsoil and its 
maintenance at the highest point of productive capacity. 

The topsoil of the future, beginning with the immediate 
present, will be built by man exactly to meet his balanced food 
requirements. Working intelligently with the same tools, mate- 
rials, and forces with which nature has worked throughout the 
ages, but in highly accelerated tempo, each individual, here and 
now, may begin to build his own soil. Whether the individual 
works with a single flower pot or window box, a few square feet 
of earth in a city yard, or in a roomy garden, on orchard or farm, 
each man, woman, and child can put the earthworm to work, with 
all the allied forces of nature and cheaply abundant materials at 
hand, and begin to build security for all the tomorrows of the 


The crowding populations of the earth stand on the last 
frontier a new frontier. Circling the globe, they have met. 
There are no more horizons, marking the boundary of a new and 
better Promised Land. Among conflicting ideologies and chang- 
ing social systems, a basic fact stands out: We cannot move east 
or west, north or south here we stand and must stand. 

At this point, the reader may appropriately ask a few ques- 
tions: What is this new frontier, upon which I am apparently 
standing? Where is it? I am anxious to explore it, adapt my- 
self and build security for me and mine. And, incidentally, 
where do earthworms come into the picture? 

Fig. 1. The Rainworm, 
Lumbricus terre&tris. 
Natural size. < Hof- 
meister ) 

Fig. 2. The 
Brandling, or 
H elodril u s 
foetidus. Nat- 
u ral size 


The new frontier is literally beneath our feet. Layer .by 
layer, right down to the bedrock, the ancient remains of buried 
continents lie sleeping the inexhaustible parent material of new 
and fertile virgin lands to be awakened and roused to verdant 
life through the knowledge and mastery of man. This new fron- 
tier is not a figure of speech; it is an actual, physical fact and 
each individual can go to work at once upon his own particular 
spot of ground, be it small or large, and have the pleasure, satis- 
f action, and profit of enjoying his own new earth which he, him- 
self, has helped to create. 

When the struggle for the mastery of the earth the actual 
physical occupation of the earth is over, vast changes will take 
place, are already taking place. Among the changes very defi- 
nitely in evidence is the movement of city and urban populations 
toward the land. Spurred by necessity and a universal awaken- 
ing to the importance of the soil, millions of people are turning 
towards the establishment of themselves upon the land, either small 
plots or more extensive acreage, according to their ability to ac- 
quire. They are seeking security through the development of a 
subsistence-homestead as a vocation or avocation. 

The wise man or woman will not procrastinate, but will be- 
gin to plan how to occupy a little piece of earth, or a big piece of 
earth, and learn how to utilize it to the best advantage. It is not 
necessary to seek expensive land, highly developed and fertile. 
Through simple and easily mastered methods of soil-building, 
utilizing earthworms and allied forces of nature, the land-dweller 
can build his own good soil in any quantity necessary to meet his 

The Earthworm in Nature 

IN THE primordial gases of chaos nature initiated her soil-building 
activities, to be continued uninterrupted down through the ages. 
The primary parent material of soil is stone. "Soil," wrote 
Shaler, "is rock material on its way toward the deep. In the 
age-long weathering and disintegration of stone, nature uses her 
many forces mechanical, chemical, and vital. Down from the 
heights, the comminuted particles find their way, to be deposited 
and mixed for a spell with a vast aggregate of vegetable and ani- 
mal residues in the low-lying places of the earth, but in the end 
to find their way on flood-borne waters to the sea. 

The incalculable animal and vegetable life of the sea finds 
its end in death, to settle into the depths with all the debris from 
earth, eventually to be compressed into sedimentary rock. 
Through erosion, mountains are ground down, entire continents 
leveled. Through great seismic upheavals and the deposition of 
silt, continents once again rise from the waters, to tower into 
mountains, hills and plains; again to be slowly worn to powder 
and redeposited in the sea. 

Thus, in a never-ending cycle, the surface of the earth 
changes breaking up, becoming soil, becoming vegetable and ani- 
mal, becoming soil again, over and over ; and finally ending in the 
deeps, to be compressed into sedimentary rock and once again, 
through geological ages, to rise above the surface and complete 
the recurring cycle. 



Working through remote geological ages down to the present 
in practically unchanged form, the earthworm has been and is 
one of the great integrating, soil-building forces of nature. In 
this movement of "rock material on its way to the deep," all life, 
both vegetable and animal, has contributed to make the subsoil 
and topsoil the great repository of the physical elements of life 
oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, mag- 
nesium, sulphur, silicon, hydrogen, chlorine, iron, with traces of 
practically all the known elements of the universe. In, the build- 
ing of this repository, the earthworm has contributed a major 
part, for practically all of the fertile topsoil of earth's surface 
has passed many times through the bodies of earthworms. 

In the book Man and the Earth, the noted Harvard geologist, 
Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, has aptly called the thin layer of 
humus-bearing topsoil "the placenta of life." Continuing, Shaler 
warns : "Man and all forms of life draw life from the sun, clouds, 
air, and earth through a tenuous film of topsoil, indispensable 
and, if rudely handled, impermanent." In the continual renewal 
and maintenance of this important surface layer upon which life 
depends, the earthworm is one of the greatest tools of nature. 

Animal life in all its forms, from microbe to man, is the 
great transformer of vegetation into perfect earthworm food, the 
animal life itself, in the end, becoming food for the earthworm. 
In the process of transformation, a small percentage becomes ani- 
mal tissue, but most of it becomes food for humus-building 
worms. In the feeding of 100 pounds. of grain to domestic ani- 
mals, such as cattle, sheep and hogs, on the average 89^ pounds 
becomes excrement, waste and gases, with only 10^ pounds ac- 
counted for by increase in animal weight. Aside from the gaseous 
waste, the 89^2 pounds represents earthworm food. In a never- 
ending annual cycle untold millions of tons of the products of 
forest and farm, orchard and garden, rivers, lakes, and oceans, 
are harvested, to be transformed into earthworm food after they 
have nourished animal life and served man. All the biological 
end-products of life kitchen and farm waste, stubble, dead vege- 


tation, manures, dead animal residues constitute the cheap and 
ever-renewed source of earthworm food for profitable soil- 

The microscopic life of the earth and soil is vastly greater 
than the animal life which we see on and above the earth as 
beasts, birds and man. In fertile farm land, where it has been 
handled by organic methods, we may find as high as 7,000 pounds 
of bacteria per acre in the superficial layer of topsoil, eternally 
gorging on the dead and living vegetable material, on each other 
and on dead animal residues all producing earthworm food, all 
in turn becoming earthworm food. 

The unseen vegetable life of the soil algae, fungi, moulds 
form an additional great tonnage of material which eventually 
becomes earthworm food. The living network of fine roots, so 
important in holding the soil in place, constitutes about one-tenth 
by weight of the total organic matter in the upper six inches of 
soil it is all destined to become earthworm food. In the good 
black soils, the organic matter earthworm food is represented 
by jrom 140 to as high as 600 tons of humus per acre. The earth- 
worm will not go hungry. 

In the accumulation of the great tonnage of humus as found 
in the good black soils, nature has taken her time. In the slow 
processes of nature, it is estimated that from 500 to 1000 years 
are required to lay down one inch of topsoil seldom so short a 
time as 500 years. The source of humus, as has been pointed out, 
is mainly vegetation. Into the structure of the plant, in the exact 
proportions necessary to reproduce vegetation, nature has com- 
bined the elements of nutrition for all life. These elements are 
derived both from the earth and from the air. Taking 1000 
pounds of dry vegetation as a unit of measurment, on the aver- 
age, we find upon analysis that it contains 50 pounds of chemicals 
derived from the earth and 950 pounds of chemicals derived from 
the air. 


In the process of transition back to the soil, vegetation be- 
comes humus. By impregnating, compounding, and combining 
humus with the parent mineral soil, nature slowly builds topsoil. 
Just as we have, from a practical standpoint, inexhaustible re- 
sources of parent mineral soil, we also have practically inexhaust- 
ible sources of vegetable material to draw upon for purposes of 
soil-building, sources which have never heretofore been exploited 
for the use of man. 


The Earthworm in Scientific Literature 

So THOROUGHLY established and accepted is the place and func- 
tion of the earthworm in nature that soil scientists, and other sci- 
entific writers in general, give it brief mention in a paragraph, 
or possibly one or two pages, as the most important animal agency 
in soil-building, and then refer the reader to Charles Darwin's 
classic study as recorded in his great book, The Formation of 
Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Earthworms, with Ob- 
servations on Their Habits. 

Beginning his study of the earthworm during his college 
days prior to 1837, Charles Darwin collected his notes, made his 
observations, and set them down in meticulous and painstaking 
detail throughout his long life. In 1881, shortly before the death 
of the great naturalist, the first edition of his famous book on 
earthworms appeared. Thus in this one instance we have a com- 
plete and comprehensive study over a sufficient period of time in 
which to establish facts and form conclusions. To appreciate 
and comprehend fully the vast activity and importance of earth- 
worms in nature, Darwin's book on The Formation of Vegetable 
Mould should be read. It is available in practically all public li- 

"Vegetable mould" is the name given by Darwin to the fer- 
tile layers of topsoil. In his introduction, referring to his studies 
and observations, he states : "I was thus led to conclude that all 
the vegetable mould over the whole country has passed many 



times through, and will again pass many times through, the in- 
testinal canals of worms. Hence the term 'animal tnould' would 
be in some respects more appropriate than that commonly used, 
'vegetable mould/ " In a summing up of Darwin's conclusions, 
we cannot do better than to quote from his own summary, given 
in the last chapter of his book. We quote in part: 

Worms have played a more important part in the history of 
the world than most persons would at first suppose. In almost 
all humid countries they are extraordinarily numerous and for 
their size possess great muscular power. In many parts of Eng- 
land a weight of more than .tgnjons (10,516 kilograms) of dry 
earth jtnnually passes througfat tHeirJbodies and is brought to the 
surface on_each acre of jand; so thatthe whole superficial bed of 
vegetable mould passes^ through their bodies in the course of 
every few years. From the collapsing of the old burrows the 
mould is in constant though slow movement, and the particles 
composing it are thus rubbed together. By these means fresh 
surfaces are continually exposed to the action of the carbonic 
acid in the soil, and of the humus-acids which appear to be still 
more efficient in the decomposition of rocks. The generation of 
the humus-acids is probably hastened during the digestion of the 
many half-decayed leaves which worms consume. Thus, the par- 
ticles of earth forming the superficial mould are subjected to con- 
ditions eminently favourable to their decomposition and disin- 
tegration. Moreover, the particles of the softer rocks suffer some 
amount of mechanical trituration in the muscular gizards of the 
worms, in which small stones serve as mill-stones . . . 

Worms prepare the ground in an excellent manner for the 
growth of fibrous-rooted plants and for seedlings of all kinds. 
They periodically expose the mould to the air, and sift it so that 
no stones larger than the particles which they can swallow are 
left in it. They mingle the whole intimately together, like a gar- 
dener who prepares fine soil for his choicest plants. In this state 
it is well fitted to retain moisture and to absorb all soluble sub- 
stances, as well as for the process of nitrification. The bones of 
dead animals, the harder part of insects, the shells of land mol- 
luscs, leaves, twigs, etc., are before long all buried beneath the 
accumulated castings of worms, and are thus brought in a more 
or less decayed state within reach of the roots of plants. Worms 
likewise drag an infinite number of dead leaves, and other parts 


of plants into their burrows, partly for the sake of plugging them 
up and partly as food. 

The leaves which are dragged into the burrows as food, 
after being torn into the finest shreds, partially digested, and satu- 
rated with the intestinal and urinary secretions are commingled 
with much' earth. This earth forms the dark-coloured, rich hu- 
mus which almost everywhere covers the surface of the land with 
a fairly well-defined layer or mantle . . . 

When we behold a wide, turf-covered expanse, we should 
remember that its smoothness, on which so much of its beauty 
depends, is mainly due to all the inequalities having been slowly 
levelled by worms. It is a marvellous reflection that the whole 
of the superficial mould over any such expanse has passed, and 
will again pass, every few years through the bodies of worms. 
The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man's 
inventions ; but long before he existed the land was in fact regu- 
larly ploughed, and still continues to be ploughed, by earthworms. 
It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which 
have played so important a part in the history of the world, as 
have these lowly organized creatures. 

In some of the soils of England, Darwin found earthworms 
in concentrations of from 25.000 to 53,000 per acre, passing 
through their bodies anoBnngmg" to the surface from ten to 
eighteen tons of dry earth annually on each acre of land. Later 
investigations carried out by the British Government in a more 
favorable location than England, showed jm_ainniial_ volumejof^ 
castings averaging more than 200 tons per acre. Notable in- 
vestigators from the time of Darwin down to the immediate 
present have corroborated his findings and have also shown that 
Darwin was extremely conservative in his claims, both as to num- 
bers of earthworms per acre as well as to the tonnage of castings 
thrown up. 

Dr. Firman E. Bear, formerly professor of Soils, Ohio State 
University, in his authoritative book on Theory and Practice in 
the Use of Fertilizers, states : "In a study of earthworms in the 
soil on the Ohio State University Farm, it was found that they 
were present in plots of soil covered with bluegrass in numbers 
averaging over one million per acre. These were concentrated, 


at the time the numbers were estimated in July, in the upper foot 
of soil." 

In a radio address delivered over WGY Farm Forum, Prof. 

Svend O. Heiberg of the New York State College of Forestry 

\said: "If your soil is suitable for earthworms . . . there may be 

I more than two and one-half million per acre, weighing about 

[1400 pounds. That means that you may have more pounds of 

earthworms in your employment than all your domestic animals 

put together." 

Mr. Arthur J. Mason, testifying as an expert before the 
Committee on Flood Control, House of Representatives, Seven- 
tieth Congress, stated: "The weight of the angleworms in this 
country is at least tenfold the weight of the entire human popu- 
lation." Mr. Mason estimated that the farm lands of Ilinois, 
his home state, in normal circumstances contain an earthworm 
population of more than six hundred billion. 

Hundreds of quotations from scientific literature could be 
cited, corroborative of the foregoing, but it is unnecessary to bur- 
den these pages with further examples. 


Curtis Fletcher Marbut, noted soil scientist and for many 
years Chief of the Soil Survey Division in the United States De- 
partment of Agriculture, expressed the belief that in certain areas 
the granular condition characterizing whole layers of soil is due 
to earthworm casts. We quote from "Soils and Men," U. S. De- 
partment of Agriculture Yearbook for 1938, page 946 : 

Certain mulls, or granular mixtures of mineral and organic 
material produced by earthworms, give particular areas of the 
forest floor their whole character. 

Quoting further from the same book in the chapter on 
"Formation of Soil," pages 964-965, we find : 

Earthworms feed on soft* and organic matter and thoroughly 
mix soils in which they live. They move and enrich many tons of 


soil to the acre each year, and they thrive especially well in moder- 
ately acid to moderately alkaline soils. One of the many indica- 
tions of potentially productive soils is the presence of well- 
nourished earthworms. 

From the Journal of Forestry, Vol. 37, No. 1, we quote the 
following from the article on "Forest Soil in Relation to Silvi- 
culture," by Svend O. Heiberg, Associate Professor of Silvicul- 
ture, New York State College of Forestry. The quotation refers 
to one main type of forest soil, "mull," or "crumbmull" : 

In the mull, the organic matter is intimately mixed with the 
upper few inches of the mineral soil. In its best form it is 
crumbly, friable, and porous. It resembles a well-cultivated gar- 
den. The mixing is done by the soil fauna, especially by the 
earthworms which continually dig and cultivate and eat both the 
vegetable matter and the mineral soil. The excreta are placed 
upon the soil surface; in fact, the entire humus layer of coarse 
mull constists of earthworm excreta. In good forest mull between 
one and two million earthworms are found per acre, weighing 
about 800 pounds; their castings may amount to 15 tons per acre 
per year. There is no doubt that earthworms are the most bene- 
ficial animals in forestry. The cultivation of the soil and plough- 
ing under of manure which farmers and gardeners find to be of 
great importance for the soil productivity is done "free" by the 
earthworms if they are furnished with a suitable environment . . . 
With respect to productivity, this humus type (coarse mull) is 
undoubtedly the highest and its ability to absorb moisture and 
chus prevent surface run-off and erosion is high. One liter of 
water poured on a 100 square centimeters surface of coarse mull 
which corresponds to about four inches of rain may be ab- 
sorbed in less than 15 seconds, while on the same soil where the 
coarse mull has not developed it may require two or three hours 
to seep in. 


To show just what the earthworm can accomplish in soil- 
building when given a proper chance, we must select a spot in the 
world where nature has provided a favorable environment, with 


an unfailing supply of earthworm food in excessive abundance, 
properly composted with all the chemical elements and organic 
content required to build rich topsoil. Fortunately, we have such 
an example in the Valley of the Nile, ancient "bread-basket" of 
the world and reputedly the most fertile soil on the face of the 
globe. Only in the more densely populated areas of China and 
Japan do we find such a concentration of human beings drawing 
their nourishment from limited areas of soil. For more than six 
thousand years of recorded history the Valley of the Nile has 
been densely occupied and under continuous cultivation, and this 
without deterioration of the fertility of the soil. Here we have 
an object-lesson in nature on mass-production of topsoil on a scale 
of such magnitude as to enable us to envision the limitless pos- 
sibilities inherent in the intensive propagation and utilization of 
earthworms in the controlled service of man. We shall make a 
brief descriptive excursion to the Upper Valley of the Nile. 


In United States Department of Agriculture Experiment 
Station Record, Vol. 27, No. 6, we find the following summary: 

Investigations carried on by the British Government in the 
Valley of the White Nile in the Sudan indicate that the great 
fertility of the soil of this valley is due in large part to the work 
of earthworms. Observations are recorded from which it is esti- 
mated that the castings of earthworms on these soils during the 
six months of active growing season of the year amounts to 
239,580 pounds (119.79 tons) per acre. 

The figures given in the foregoing quotation are almost un- 
believably amazing to anyone who has made no study of the 
activity and volume of work accomplished by earthworms. To 
understand them, we must examine the source of the Blue Nile 
and the facts in nature which make such results credible. 

The two source rivers of the true Nile White Nile and 
the Blue Nile form their confluence at Khartoum, which in- 


cidentally is the mathematical midway point of this four-thousand- 
mile, longest river in the world. Above Khartoum, between the 
two converging rivers, lies a triangular stretch of level country 
called the "Gezira." Roughly, the Gezira is 250 miles long, 100 
miles wide at the base of the triangle and narrowing to the point 
where the- rivers unite to form the Nile. This inexhaustibly fer- 
tile, five-million-acre tract of ancient farm land has been slowly 
built up through the ages by the annual deposit of silt from the 
overflow of the Blue Nile, its waters so richly laden during the 
flood season that it is almost a river of mud. The land of the 
Gezira harbors an earthworm population, probably numbered in 
the billions, which is responsible for the unexcelled fertility of 
the soil. 

We must consider the region from which the Blue Nile 
gathers its flood waters, in order to understand the composition 
if its silt. At an altitude of 9000 feet, in the rugged highlands 
of Abyssinia, the Blue Nile finds its source. For nine months of 
the year this is a hard, dry country of volcanic mountains, abrupt, 
fantastic peaks, high plateaus six to ten thousand feet in eleva- 
tion vast, eroded slopes, deep gullies, narrow canyons. The river 
dries up to occasional water holes. To the north of the river are 
great timbered jungles which support an unequalled animal life, 
including the elephant and other herbivora, as well as the great 
carnivora and lesser animals of all kinds. 

In June of each year comes the rainy season, beginning with 
torrential downpour, cloudbursts, terrific thunder and electric 
storms. The trickling, almost dry river wakes from its nine 
months' rest. Every gully, canyon, tiny tributary, and dry wash 
becomes a roaring torrent, as the waters from thousands of square 
miles of highlands rush down to swell the Blue Nile into a vast 
wall of water fifteen hundred feet wide, as it starts on its course 
to join the White Nile at Khartoum. In its first fifty miles the 
river drops 4200 feet through a huge gorge, and thirty miles be- 
low Lake Tana it encounters the great fall called "Tisitat" 
"roaring fire." 


Below the falls the river is crowded into an almost inacces- 
sible gorge, at places 5000 feet deep, between whose precipitous 
walls it pursues its course for 500 miles. This gorge is an almost 
uninvaded jungle paradise for animals and birds. The tempera- 
ture never falls below 100 degrees. The accumulated droppings 
of months from millions of animals and birds, including ele- 
phants, hippopotami, crocodiles, lions, leopards, and an aggrega- 
tion of beasts great and small, find their way into the river to add 
to its rich silt. The downpour of rain continues for nearly one 
hundred days, with very little let-up. The rushing, eroding 
waters from the highlands gather vast quantities of volcanic ash, 
ferruginous minerals, feldspar, hornblende crystals, clay, etc., 
down the steep hillsides into the Blue Nile, until the river carries 
17 per cent of silt, of which 9 per cent is organic matter and 8 
per cent mineral matter. 

A peculiar element which adds appreciably to the organic 
richness of the silt of the Blue Nile is billions of white ants, with 
the numberless tons of fine earth they have piled up in their 
ceaseless workings during the nine month's dry season. 

After flowing 500 miles through the confines of this great 
canyon, a boiling, mixing cauldron of racing, silt-laden waters, 
the river bursts from the gorge into the lowland of the Gezira 
and spreads over the plain as overflow. In the Gezira more than 
9000 miles of irrigation ditches help to distribute the flood 
waters uniformly over the earth. 

It is thus that the vast annual feast of organic and inorganic 
material, perfectly mixed and composted, is spread for the worms 
of the Gezira. Beneath the dry surface of the earth the innu- 
merable earthworm population has awaited the coming of the 
rains. The earth has been riddled with billions of tunnels to a 
depth of several feet, making it one vast honey-combed sub- 
surface, ready to receive and store the waters when they come. 
As the flood-water spreads, the thirsty earth absorbs it quickly 
like a sponge, leaving its deposit of silt. The earthworms begin 
their work and almost over night the silt is carried through the 


worms, digested, homogenized and excreted as rich, fine humus- 
laden topsoil, loaded with immediately available, water-soluble 
plant nutrients. Here no human cultivation is required. The 
ground is seeded and the next operation is the harvest the earth- 
worms do the cultivating. 

Age after age, for thousands of years, this process has been 
repeated. In this favorable environment nature composts food in 
abundance, the earthworms devour it, digest it, and excrete humus 
for the growth of vegetation in an endless cycle. We are thus 
given an outstanding example of mass-production of topsoil in 
nature by the earthworms of the Nile Valley, rightly termed a 
soil of inexhaustible fertility. 

In this recorded observation, the castings were estimated for 
a period of six months only, totaling for this time slightly less 
than 120 tons per acre. Based on comprehensive knowledge of 
the earthworm and his work, a conservative estimate for the en- 
tire year in the area under consideration would place the total 
probable annual output of castings at more than 200 tons per acre. 


While engaged in research and experiments over a number 
of years, we examined many reports carried in scientific litera- 
ture, covering a period of nearly one hundred years, from before 
the time of Darwin down to the immediate present. The evi- 
dence, showing vastly increased productivity of soil that is well 
populated with earthworms, or entirely produced by earthworms, 
is fully conclusive. In fact, the evidence shows an overwhelm- 
ing superiority of earthworm soil over other fertile soils. Among 
the many reasons that account for the fertility of earthworm cast- 
ings, probably the most outstanding is the fact that in its passage 
through the earthworm the soil undergoes a chemical change 
through which the nutritional elements for plant growth are ren- 
dered water-soluble to a much more highly marked degree than 
is found in soil which has not been subjected to the influence of 


The well-known fertility of the Nile Valley is an example 
a two thousand-mile stretch of land which is literally one vast bed 
of earthworm soil, ideally qomposted and laid down, layer by 
layer, and subjected to the digestion of earthworms in a favor- 
able environment. While we have given the Valley of the Nile 
as an example, all the fertile river valleys and bottom lands of 
the earth could be cited with equal truth as illustrations of the 
important work of earthworms in the building of topsoil. Many 
plant growth experiments have been carried out in verification of 
the claims made for earthworm castings and soil that has been 
worked over by earthworms. Further on in this book we shall 
give other reports, but it is appropriate at this point in the dis- 
cussion to cite a few. 

In the book Soils: Their Formation, Properties, Composition 
and Relations to Climate and Plant Growth, by E. W. Hilgard 
(Ph.D., L.L.D., one time Professor of Agriculture in the Univer- 
sity of California and formerly Director of the California Ex- 
periment Station) we find in part*: 

Wolney has shown by direct experimental cultures in boxes,, 
with and without earthworms, surprising differences between the 
cultural results obtained, and this has been fully confirmed by 
the subsequent researches of Djemil. In Wolney 's experiments, 
the ratio of higher production in the presence of worms varied 
all the way from 2. 6 percent in the case of oats, 63.9 percent in 
that of rye, 135.9 percent in that of potatoes, 140 percent in 
vetch, and 300 percent in that of the field pea, to 733 percent in 
the case of rape. 

From among many reports received from practical earth- 
worm culturists, we will give part of a letter from a Georgia 
farmer, Mr. R. A. Caldwell ; we quote : 

I have planted Moss Rose in experimental pots, same age and 
condition, one pot with worms, one without: invariably, the one 
with the worms will take on new zest and life, and I have hacl 

*Pages 158-159 


them make such wonderful growth as 16 to 1. I have also grown 
petunias in boxes, in such size and profusion as to be unbelievable 
to one who never had a demonstration of the earthworm's fertiliz- 
ing and cultivating ability. Petunias in soil of identical fertility, 
with the aid of hundreds of earthworms burrowing about their 
roots, produced leaves 1^ to 1J4 inches wide by 3 inches long, 
while those in the boxes without worms were yet j inch wide 
by 1 to \% inches long; and the worm- fertilized plants were 
several times as tall as the others. 

In a full-column article entitled "Earthworms in Role of 
Great Benefactors of the Human Race," Mr. W. A. Anderson, 
Editor of the S*outh Pasadena Review, reported a number of 
growth experiments by the author.* One of the experiments re- 
ported on was this: We planted three boxes of lawn grass (poa 
trivialis}. One box of good native soil as control; one box of 
identical soil, but with earthworms added ; one box of pure earth- 
worm castings. After germination and sixty days' growth, the 
grass was harvested and the results carefully compared. All 
boxes produced good crops of grass. The box of native soil, with 
earthworms added, yielded 271 percent more than the control box 
without worms. The box of earthworm castings yielded 463 per- 
cent more than the control box without earthworms. 

While we could give an endless array of reports similar to 
the above, we feel that the foregoing is amply sufficient to call 
attention to the fact that the earthworms not only produce a great 
volume of topsoil, but they produce soil of unsurpassed fertility. 


On the subject of plant food in subsoil, we quote from Pro- 
ductive Soils: The Fundamentals of Successful S<oil Management 
and Profitable Crop Management^, by Wilbur Walter Weir 

'South Pasadena (California) Reriew, April 12, 1940. 
fPages 71 and 72 

Dr. George Sheffield Oliver, with a cluster of ripe "carob" 
against the background. 


(B.S.[A], M.S., Ph.D., Forest Ecologist, Branch of Research, 
Forest Service, U. S. Dept. of Agriculture; one time Soil Tech- 
nologist, Bureau of Chemistry and Soils, University of Wiscon- 
sin) : 

Subsoils contain plant food elements. It is important to bear 
in mind that subsoils also contain the important elements. In 
general, the surface soil contains more rUrogen than the sub- 
soil, owing to the presence of more organic matter. Some deep, 
black soils may have as high percentage of nitrogen in the sub- 
soil (to a limited depth) as is contained in the surface stratum. 

The percentage of phosphorus in the surface layer is com- 
monly greater than or equal to that contained in the subsoil. 
There is often a close relationship between the phosphorus and 
the amount of organic matter in mineral soils. This accounts for 
the higher phosphorus content of the upper strata. . . On ex- 
haustive cropping, the higher content of the surface soil is gradu- 
ally reduced; until it equals at least the percentage contained in 
f he subsoil. 

The potassium content is usually greater in the subsoils, 
especially when they are fine-textured. More potassium is found 
in subsoils of humid climates because of the presence of more 
fine particles, which are not only richer in potassium than the 
coarser surface particles, but which absorb much more of the 
potassium leached down from the surface stratum. 

In arid and semi-arid soils, the phosphorus and potassium 
content of the surface soil is very much the same as that of the 

From the foregoing quotation, it is readily appreciated what 
a great change may be made in the surface soil by the transloca- 
tion of the subsoil to the top layers through the action of earth- 
worms, especially when they are present in large numbers. The 
further importance of this soil movement from the depths to the 
top will be more fully understood in the light of the chemical 
changes the soil undergoes in its passage through the earthworm, 
which render it immediately available for the growing of crops. 

Every farmer and student of the soil knows that he cannot 
mix his topsoil with any great quantity of subsoil, without se- 


riously reducing the fertility of the topsoil for immediate crop- 
ping. When subsoils are brought to the surface, especially from 
depths ranging from eighteen inches to two feet downward, they 
should be "weathered" for months and mixed sparingly into the 
topsoil before they become fully available for best results. How- 
ever, in the translocation of the subsoil by earthworms, the neces- 
sity for leaving the land fallow for months of weathering is 
avoided. The soil undergoes the necessary changes in the ali- 
mentary canals of the earthworms, preparing it, as has been 
stated, for immediate use. 

The earthworms do not simply swallow the subsoil, bring it 
to the surface and deposit it. It is thoroughly mixed with the 
surface topsoil, so that the whole becomes one uniform, homo- 
genized layer. To determine, as well as to illustrate, the mixing 
action of earthworms, we prepared a culture box of carefully 
stratified layers of materials. Layers of granulated peat moss, 
mixed horse manure, rabbit manure, and chicken manure, with 
layers of good topsoil, were alternated. We then added several 
hundred earthworms on top of the stratified compost, allowing 
them to burrow down into the mix. After four months, we 
dumped the box for examination. We found no sign of stratifica- 
tion, the entire contents of the box having been converted into 
one homogenized mixture of fine, crumbly soil. 

In our lath house, where we had established our experi- 
mental culture beds, great numbers of earthworms had burrowed 
into the earth from the culture boxes and other beds. We were 
using an old cement mixing box for compost mixing. This box 
is about five feet long, thirty inches wide and twelve inches deep, 
with a galvanized iron bottom that had finally rusted into many 
holes. This box had been filled with rabbit manure and thor- 
oughly wet down, preparatory to mixing the earthworm compost. 
However, we had neglected the task of mixing compost for a 
period of several weeks. Upon examination of the manure, we 
found that many earthworms had moved into the box from the 
damp earth beneath it and were producing many egg-capsules. 


We decided to leave the box and observe results, meantime cover- 
ing it for protection against the summer sun and keeping the 
contents moist. The contents of the box soon lost its identity 
as manure and after a few months, was found to have been com- 
pletely converted into fine, dark, crumbly earth. We used this 
earthworm soil for a Victory Garden, grown in lugboxes, which 
supplied our table with lettuce, radishes, young onions, beets, 
and other greens of unusual excellence from early spring until 
late in the fall. In this instance, the worms brought up consider- 
able quantities of the subsoil from beneath the old cement box 
and thoroughly mixed and combined it with rabbit manure, 
providing us with highly fertile and productive earth for our 
lugbox garden. 

In the Record of the U. S. Dept. of Agriculture Experi- 
ment Station, Vol XVII, No. 8*, we find the following sum- 
mary of an experiment by A. Murinov : 

Alternate layers of different kinds of soil were placed in 
zinc boxes with one glass side, earthworms were added, the soil 
kept in a proper state of moisture, and the changes which the 
soil underwent determined by analyses at the beginning and end 
of the experiments, which lasted one year. A check series of 
boxes were treated in the same manner, except that earthworms 
were not added. 

The results show that in the soils to which the earthworms 
were added the phosphoric acid soluble in 10 per cent hydro- 
chloric acid increased in all cases. The lime content, which at 
the beginning was greatest in the surface soils, was found at 
the end of the experiments to gradually increase from the sur- 
face toward the subsoils. The nitrogen was more uniformly 
distributed throughout the soil at the end of the experiment than 
at the beginning. 

In considering soil that has been worked over by earthworms 
and mixed with earthworm castings, attention should be called to 
the fact that the major plant- food elements nitrogen, phos- 

*Page 744 


phorus and potassium as well as the minor elements are 
intimately mixed and compounded with a high percentage of or- 
ganic material, all in a finely divided state, which exposes many 
surfaces to the bacterial action so important in the topsoil. The 
earthworms "sweeten" the soil, as the castings are rich in cal- 
cium carbonate that has been secreted from the blood of the 
earthworm in the metabolic processes and is then excreted in 
the castings. 

Of particular note is the highly important fact that earth- 
worm castings are very rich in nitrogen and may contain three 
times as much nitrogen as is found in the soil in which the worms 
work. This point is brought out by Horace Edward Stock- 
bridge (Ph.D., Florida Agricultural College) in his book Rocks 
and Soils: Their Origin, Composition and Characteristics. In 
discussing earthworm castings, he says : 

. . . The amount of organic matter thus directly or indirectly 
added to the soil may be inferred from the fact that Darwin 
estimates that the material annually brought to the surface by 
worms is two-tenths of an inch per acre ; equivalent to an average 
of 10.59 tons of each acre inhabited by worms. . . 

Darwin states the ammonia content of worm castings to 
be 0.018 per cent, while the average ammonia present in com- 
mon surface soils, as determined by Knop and Wolff, is only 
0.00056 per cent. It therefore appears that the action of the 
worms has increased the ammonia content of the soil acted upon 
more than threefold (321 per cent). 

When given in the number of pounds per acre represented 
by 0.018 per cent of 10.59 tons, the amount of dry material 
which Darwin estimated annually passed through the earth- 
worms of England per acre, the yearly accession of ammonia 
per acre is equivalent to 381.24 pounds. Ammonia is but one, 
and perhaps not the most important, of the constituents made 
available in the topsoil by the life- functions of earthworms. 
Quoting further from Dr. Stockbridge, "This, be it borne in 
mind, is but a change wrought in one year and capable of yearly 


repetition. And, moreover, the entire mass of mould on every 
field passes in the course of a few years through their alimentary 

In considering the significance of the above quotations and 
comments, we will point out that in the example we have given 
of the action of the earthworms in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 
the accession of ammonia to the topsoil would be an almost un- 
believable amount. We can only surmise at this point that the 
accession of other plant food elements to the topsoil is propor- 
tional to the gain in nitrogen derived from ammonia. 

The constant translocation of the plant food minerals from 
the subsoil to the surface zones, the thorough and ceaseless mix- 
ing of these elements with the soil, making it a finely conditioned, 
evenly balanced soil without the necessity for long weathering, 
is just part of the important work oS worms. Without quoting 
long references and details, let us summarize in part the v/ork 
of earthworms in nature, with some related points, before pass- 
ing on to the second part of the book, which deals with the con- 
trolled activity of earthworms. 


Earthworms are found in nature, ranging from a sparse 
population of a few thousand per acre to several millions per 
acre in favorable environment. They are distributed prac- 
tically all over the globe. 

While earthworms inhabit the surface layers of soil, de- 
riving nutrition from the organic content of the soil, but swal- 
lowing the soil with all that it contains, they commonly burrow 
deep into the earth, riddling and honeycombing the earth to a 
depth of several feet. They come to the top to deposit their 
castings on top of the earth and in the loose surface layers, 
bringing the subsoil to the top and mixing it with the surface 
soil. In its passage through the worm, the mineral subsoil under- 
goes chemical changes, making it immediately available for plant 


nutrition. The aerating tunnels have the important function of 
greatly increasing the air capacity of the soil. In some cases 
the air capacity is increased as much as 60 to 75 per cent. 

Water penetration is improved where there is adequate earth- 
worm population. Plow sole is eliminated. The rainfall is 
quickly absorbed, instead of running off or standing on the sur- 

Wormcasts in acid soil are much less acid than the soil from 
which they are derived, the reduction in acidity in some instances 
amounting to as much as 75 per cent. In large numbers, the 
earthworms produce a topsoil that is practically a neutral humus. 
Also, earthworms reduce the alkalinity of the soil, so that alkaline 
soils are rendered less alkaline, while acid soils are rendered less 

Wormcasts commonly contain a high percentage of car- 
bonates as well as a high percentage of nitrogen. 

Earthworms increase the organic content of the surface soils 
by concentrating the organic content of the soil in the top layers. 
Colloid humus is increased in the topsoil. 

Bacterial multiplication and functioning are favored by the 
action of earthworms. Where there are numerous earthworms, 
the soil also has a greatly increased number of soil bacteria, espe- 
cially those concerned in the decomposition of cellulose. Decom- 
position of vegetable matter is much more rapid under the 
influence of earthworms. 

Earthworms continually restore the plant food elements to 
the surface soils from the subsoils, thus overcoming the effects 
of leaching. Through the action of the earthworms, the poten- 
tial fertility of the soil is rendered available by the fact that in 
the digestive processes of the earthworm the elements of plant 
nutrition are made water-soluble. 

Earthworm castings have much greater productive value for 
plant growth than other soil, due to the fact that the nutritional 
elements have been concentrated in the castings in water-soluble 
form and in a more balanced condition. It is very much like 


feeding an animal with a well-balanced food ration, which is the 
ideal ration. The same applies to plant nutrition. 

Resistance to pests and plant diseases is increased by action 
of earthworms, doubtless due to the production of a more 
balanced soil without deficiencies such as are found in soils de- 
pendent on chemical fertilization. Another important observa- 
tion we have made, confirmed by numerous reports from earth- 
worm culturists, is that fruit trees which have never borne fruit 
become productive after earthworms have been established around 
them. Undetermined deficiencies in the soil have evidently been 
remedied by the addition of earthworms, resulting in unproductive 
trees becoming fruitful. 

In the second part of this book, many of the above points 
will be emphasized. 


Can It Be Done? 

IN THE foregoing pages we have discussed the earthworm in 
nature and shown something of its value in the soil. We have 
shown earthworms working in the soils of England in concen- 
trations of from 25,000 to 53,000 per acre or more ; and in the 
soils of the United States in concentrations of from 250,000 to 
upwards of 2,000,000 per acre. We have shown earthworms in 
England in an annual production of ten tons of castings per acre, 
while in the more favorable environment of the Upper Nile 
Valley we have reported on the annual production of more than 
two hundred tons of castings per acre. 

The value of the earthworm in nature has been established 
beyond question. However, talking and writing about the value 
of earthworms in nature without doing anything about it is ex- 
actly like the academic discussion of water power in nature, 
without ever a thought or effort to utilize it in the service of 
man. The positive and unqualified answer to the question "Can 
it be done?" is "Yes it has been done." 

One million earthworms per acre in good native soil is con- 
sidered a very numerous natural population. Such a population 
represents approximately ten worms per cubic foot of soil, 
figuring an average working depth of thirty inches. 

In the intensive propagation and use of domesticated earth- 
worms, we have put them to work in controlled soil-building 
operations in concentrations of three thousand or more per cubic 



foot of composted parent material. In round numbers, such a 
concentration means one hundred and thirty million worms 
per acre foot. The fact which makes such high concen- 
trations possible is that the number of earthworms in a given 
environmental space is limited only by the amount of avail- 
able food present. Lest the reader at this point be misled into 
thinking that three thousand earthworms could survive and 
work in a cubic foot of native soil, we hasten to state that in 
intensive propagation we provide the necessary concentrated nu- 
tritional material for the worms to work with in special culture 
beds or compost heaps. 

We have gone to the greatest of all teachers Mother Na- 
ture for an example of "mass-production" of earthworm top- 
soil in the Nile Valley, showing that it can be done. Not only 
does nature show that it can be done, but she shows how to do it. 
Making practical application of the lessons of nature, in the in- 
tensive propagation and use of domesticated earthworms we 
create a favorable environment, provide the abundant-soil-building 
food of worms which is cheaply available practically everywhere, 
and the example of nature is duplicated in proportion to the 
amount of material and number of worms involved. 

We now pass to the second part of the book, which deals 
more particularly with earthworms under controlled propagation 
and use. 


The Earthworm Under Control 

A New Concept 

IN THE following chapters we deal with the intensive propaga- 
tion and use of earthworms under controlled environment. As 
has been stated, the one fact which makes it possible to utilize 
the earthworm in mass-production of humus-laden topsoil is that 
the number of earthworms in a given environment is limited only 
by the amount of available food present. 

There are two objectives to be held in mind: The first is the 
most effective and economical utilization of all possible organic 
material, such as every form of vegetation, all animal manures, 
garbage, garden, orchard, and farm waste, and litter of all kinds; 
in fact, what we have termed the biological end-products of life 
as opposed to purely chemical end-products and strictly chemical 
fertilizers. The second objective is to establish the greatest pos- 
sible earthworm population in the soil, using methods of tillage 
and organic fertilization that will favor the maintenance of earth- 
worms in the soil, as well as the bacterial population that is con- 
cerned in soil-building and maintenance of the highest state of 
fertility in a permanent agriculture. 

In propagating earthworms intensively in special culture 
beds, we use them very much as we use bacterial cultures, breed- 
ing them in high concentrations by furnishing adequate food ma- 
terial to support vast numbers in a limited area. Fertile farm 
and garden soil, properly handled through organic methods, will 
easily support from one to two million or more earthworms per 



acre- foot. Such a population will provide ideal aeration and air 
capacity for the soil, with good drainage, rapid water penetra- 
tion and maximum moisture-holding capacity. At the same time, 
such an earthworm population provides a soil turnover and con- 
ditioning of upwards of two hundred tons of material annually, 
mixed and prepared in the humus mill of the earthworm and 
delivered to the root-zone of vegetation comprised in the im- 
mediate six to eighteen inches of surface soil. In special culture 
beds, we commonly propagate earthworms in concentrations of 
upwards of three thousand worms per cubic foot of material, 
which means, in round numbers, one hundred and thirty million 
worms per acre-foot. 

With the above figures and objectives in mind, it is possible 
to begin to visualize the possibilities of soil-building, whether it 
be for a single flower pot, a window box of flowers, a small city 
yard or garden, or more extensive acreage in large gardens, nur- 
series, orchards, or farms. 

We ordinarily think of earthworms as small, wriggling, in- 
significant, repugnant creatures. To appreciate properly the pos- 
sibilities inherent in the intensive propagation and use of worms 
in soil-building, we should gain a new and different concept, 
thinking of them in units of hundreds, thousands, or even mil- 
lions, instead of thinking in terms of separate, tiny, individual 
worms. For purposes of illustration, suppose we ask, "How 
many are a million earthworms?" and use our imagination in 
answering the question. 

Mentally, we shall combine one million earthworms into a 
single, composite animal and place this animal on an acre of 
ground, with a year's ration of fertile topsoil piled up around it 
in symmetrical piles for its daily consumption. We shall then 
have a monster animal, weighing more than 2000 pounds, with 
365 piles of soil before it. Each pile will contain approximately 
one cubic yard of earth, weighing upwards of 2000 pounds. Each 
pile will represent the daily ration of this fantastic, dirt-eating 
animal, that will swallow its own weight or more of earth each 


day of the year. Such will be our composite animal, mentally 
integrated from one million earthworms. Now let us check with 
the facts, as they have been established by careful experiment. 

We have weighed many of the earthworms which we propa- 
gated during our research. On the average, they run about 500 
to the pound, or about 31 worms per ounce. The fully mature 
worm, in good condition, averages four inches in length. Thus 
we find that one million of them would weigh 2000 pounds. If 
placed end to end, they would make a continuous line over 6% 
miles long. An individual worm, eating its way through the 
soil, will swallow its own weight of earth daily, in order to ab- 
sorb from the soil the infinitesimal amount of nutrition required 
to keep a worm in good condition. When we analyze and care- 
fully study these figures, we begin to gain a concept of the tre- 
mendous soil-building force which is at work in the earth when 
it is populated by one million earthworms per acre. The earth- 
worm is just as truly an air-breathing, manure-producing animal 
as a horse, cow, or other domestic animal. The difference is 
that earthworms work unseen and their manure is so thoroughly 
combined with the soil that it cannot be separated. In fact, as 
has been pointed out, the manure of the earthworm is finely con- 
ditioned soil. 

At first thought, when it is stated than an earthworm will 
ingest its own weight in soil each twenty-four hours, this amount 
seems almost unbelievable. However, when the eating and ex- 
cretory activities of the chicken are compared with those of the 
earthworm, a ration of topsoil equal to the weight of the earth- 
worm each day seems a very reasonable amount. On the average, 
a mature hen will drop seventy-five pounds of manure each year. 
Chickens utilize only about ten per cent of the nutritional value 
of the food they eat, the balance going out in their droppings. 
Thus they have to gorge many hours each day in order to pro- 
duce eggs in commercially profitable numbers. Suppose that a 
laying hen had to swallow enough earth daily to secure the 
amount of organic food necessary to keep her in good laying con- 


dition, instead of feeding on concentrated grains and mashes. 
To do this, she would have to consume several times her own 
weight of earth each day, assuming that her digestive organs were 
similar to those of the earthworm. Yet that is exactly what the 
earthworm has to do. The earthworm lives on the organic con- 
tent of the soil, which it swallows with all that is contained 
therein. The earthworm is so constructed as to be able to digest 
this material, thus gaining the small amount of food necessary 
for nutrition. Only because it is perhaps the most perfect 
digestive organism known to the animal world is the earthworm 
able to absorb enough food from an amount of earth equal to 
its own weight to maintain it in a fat and active condition. Thus, 
the statement that the earthworm swallows its own weight of 
earth daily appears, on examination, perfectly reasonable and 

We again repeat: Think of earthworms in large units of 
hundreds, thousands, millions; for in intensive propagation and 
use of earthworms we must deal with great numbers of them. 
Otherwise, we cannot expect to attain results worthy of con- 


Earthworms in General Farming 

ONE of the questions most frequently asked is "How would 
you utilize earthworms for large acreage and general farming?" 
We are fortunate in having a fact story of a large Ohio farm 
which was operated with full use of earthworms during the 
period from about 1830 to 1890. Early in our research into the 
subject of earthworms, we came in contact with the late Dr. 
George Sheffield Oliver, pioneer earthworm culturist of Cali- 
fornia. We became close friends and collaborators for a num- 
ber of years prior to his death. In answer to our questions about 
the use of earthworms for large acreage, Dr. Oliver related to us 
the story of his early youth on his grandfather's farm. We can 
think of no better way to present the technique for utilization 
of earthworms in general farming and for large acreage than to 
tell the story, reconstructing it very much as Dr. Oliver told it. 

While this story gives the broad basic principles for use of 
earthworms in general farming, the earthworm farmer of today 
will have the advantage of modern composting techniques and 
many other improvements which have been worked out during 
the past few decades. However, the earthworms remain the 
same, for they have come down to us practically unchanged, 
from remote geological ages to the present. 

In a later chapter, we shall give a report of earthworm till- 
age on a modern farm, with results which are corroborative of 
those reported as follows by Dr. Oliver. 



My Grandfather's Earthworm Farm 

The story of a self-contained farm of 160 acres, main- 
tained in ever-increasing fertility over a period of more 
than 60 years, through the utilization of earthworms. 
A fact story related to the author by the late Dr. George 
Sheffield Oliver. 

WHEN, as a small boy, I went to live with my grandfather, 
George Sheffield, in northern Ohio, I found him living on a 
model farm of 160 acres, which he had farmed continuously 
for more than sixty years. He was a man who loved the soil 
and took pride in every detail of his farm. I remember him as 
a tall, striking figure, of the type of Edwin Markham. In 
fact, in later years, when I came across a picture of the poet 
Markham, I was struck by the close resemblance of the two 
men their features were almost identical and they could have 
easily been taken for twins. 

Some of my pleasantest memories from the period of 
several years which I spent on this farm are the daily horse- 
back rides I took with my grandfather. After all these years I 
can still see him, at the age of seventy-five, riding with the ease 
and grace of the practiced horseman, swinging into the saddle 
with the facility of a man in his prime. At that age he still 
took delight in riding the young three-year-olds. He lived to the 
ripe old age of ninety- three. 

Originally, this farm-holding had been 1,800 acres, but it 
had been sold off in forty-acre tracts to former tenants until 
there remained only the farmstead of 160 acres. It had been 
my grandfather's practice to select young single men as farm 
help. As these men reached maturity and married and wanted 
to establish homes of their own, my grandfather would set each 
of them up on a tract of forty acres or more, assist them in get- 
ting started, and accept a payment contract over a period of 
forty years. Thus, his close neighbors were men who, like him- 


self, loved the soil and could cooperate in all community work. 
My grandfather often remarked that he was making more profit 
from his remaining 160 acres than he ever made on the original 
1800 acres, due to his lifetime experience, improved methods, 
and the intensive utilization of earthworms. 

The homestead was located at the center of the farm. Four 
acres of orchard and garden furnished an abundance of fruits 
and vegetables the year round. Root cellars, vegetable banks, 
canned and dried fruits and vegetables provided for the winter 
months. The house and orchard were backed by forty acres of 
timbered land maple, hickory, black walnut, burr oak, and many 
other trees native to Ohio. Incidentally, the farm was fenced 
with black walnut rails beautiful timber which would be al- 
most priceless at this time. My grandfather called this timbered 
tract his park. It was indeed, a wonderful park, abounding in 
small game and bird life to delight the soul of a small boy with 
his first gun. The park was well watered with living springs and 
a quite generous-sized creek ran through it, large enough to fur- 
nish all the fish the family needed. I was designated as the 
official fish-catcher, a task which I dearly loved. 

It is important to get a picture of the lay-out of the farm, in 
order to understand its efficient operation without waste of time 
and energy. It was divided into four tracts of forty acres each. 
The homestead, with orchard, garden and park occupied one 
forty. Near the center of the 160 acres was located the great 
barnyard of about two acres, with broad swinging gates in each 
of the four sides, opening into lanes which led into each of the 
forty-acre tracts. Thus the stock could be herded into any part 
of the farm, simply by opening the proper gate and driving them 
through the lane into the particular section that was to be 

Located in the four corners of the barnyard were the straw- 
stacks alternating wheat stack, oat stack, wheat stack, oat stack. 
These stacks occupied permanent raised platforms, about six feet 
above the ground, resting on sturdy walnut posts and covered 


by small logs, or poles, cut from the woods. The stock had 
good shelter under these platforms in the winter, feeding on the 
straw overhead through the cracks between the logs. Plenty 
of straw was always thrown down for bedding. My grandfather 
claimed that each kind of straw added valuable elements of fer- 
tility to his compost, and he alternated the strawstacks so that 
the wheat and oat straw would be evenly mixed. 

In the center of the barnyard was the compost pit, which, in 
the light of my present knowledge, I now know to have* been 
the most perfect and scientific fertilizer production unit I have 
ever known. This pit was fifty feet wide and one hundred feet 
long and had been excavated to a depth of about two feet. At 
each end, evenly spaced from side to side and about twenty 
feet from the end, a heavy log post was deeply anchored. These 
posts were probably twelve to fifteen feet high, with an over- 
head cable anchored to the top of each post and running to the 
barn. On these cables were large traveling dump baskets, in 
which the manure from the barn was transported to the compost 
pit and dumped each morning, to be evenly spread in a uniform 
layer. By means of the posts in each end, the manure could be 
dumped at a spot most convenient for proper handling. With 
this arrangement of overhead trolley from barn to compost pit, 
it was possible to clear the barn quickly each morning of the 
night's droppings and spread the material in the pit without any 
loss of the valuable elements of fresh manure. This is an im- 
portant point in the utilization of earthworms for general farming. 

Just outside the barnyard ran the creek, which found its 
source in a big spring in the park. From this creek an abundance 
of water was piped by gravity into the watering troughs for the 
stock in barn and yard. Also a flume, with a controlled intake, 
led to the compost pit, so that when necessary the compost could 
be well soaked in a few minutes. The homestead occupied 
ground on a higher level than the barnyard, so that drainage 
was always away from the house and there was no chance of 
pollution from the teeming life of the barnyard. 


To one side of the barnyard and at a higher level than the 
floor of the yard was located the ice pond. This pond was so 
arranged that it could be filled from a flume, leading by gravity 
from the creek at one end, while at the lower end a spillway 
was provided so that the pond could be drained. At the proper 
season, the ice pond would be filled and when the ice' formed 
to the right thickness the annual harvest of ice was cut and 
stored in the ice house, to provide an abundance of ice for all 
purposes the year round. The bottom of this pond was formed 
of a fine-textured red clay. Each spring the pond was drained 
and with teams of scrapers many tons of this clay were scraped 
out and diked around the borders of the pond to weather for 
use on the compost heap. 

And now enters the earthworm. For more than sixty years 
these 160 acres had been farmed without a single crop failure. 
My grandfather was known far and wide for the unequaled 
excellence of his corn and other grain, and a large part of his 
surplus was disposed of at top prices for seed purposes. The 
farm combined general farming and stock raising; my grand- 
father's hobby, for pleasure and profit, was the breeding and 
training of fine saddle horses and matched Hambletonian teams. 
He maintained a herd of about fifty horses, including stud, 
brood mares, and colts in all stages of development. In addi- 
tion to horses, he had cattle, sheep, hogs, and a variety of fowl, 
including a flock of about five hunderd chickens which had the 
run of the barnyard, with a flock of ducks. Usually about three 
hundred head of stock were wintered. The hired help con- 
sisted of three or four men, according to the season, with addi- 
tional help at rush seasons. This establishment was maintained 
in prosperity and plenty, and my grandfather attributed his 
unvarying success as a farmer to the utilization of earthworms 
in maintaining and rebuilding the fertility of the soil in an un- 
broken cycle. The heart of the farming technique was the com- 
post pit. 


As previously mentioned, the pit was fifty by one hundred 
feet, excavated to a depth of two feet, and it was especially 
designed to provide a great breeding bed for earthworms. 
Literally millions of earthworms inhabited the pit and compost 
heap. Each morning the barn was cleaned, the droppings for 
the previous twenty-four hours were transported to the heap by 
the dump baskets on the overhead trolley, and evenly spread 
over the surface. The building of the compost heap was an 
invariable daily routine of the farm work. A flock of chickens 
everlastingly scratched and worked in the barnyard, assisted by 
the ducks, gleaning every bit of undigested grain that found its 
way into the manure, and incidentally adding about twenty tons 
of droppings per year to the material which eventually found 
its way into the compost heap. The cattle and sheep grazed 
around the four strawstacks and bedded under the shelter of the 
stacks, adding their droppings to the surface and treading them 
into the bedding material. From time to time the entire barn- 
yard was raked and scraped, the combined manure and litter 
being harrowed to the compost heap and distributed in an even 
layer over the entire surface. As the compost reached a depth 
of twelve or fourteen inches, several tons of the red clay from 
the border of the ice pond would be hauled in and spread in an 
even layer over the surface of the compost. Thus the variety 
of animal manures from horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, and fowl 
alternated in the heap with layers of the fine-textured clay, rich 
in mineral elements. Meantime, beneath the surface the earth- 
worms multiplied in untold millions, gorging ceaselessly upon 
the manures and decomposing vegetable matter, as well as the 
mineral clay soil, and depositing their excreta in the form of 
castings a completely broken down, deodorized soil, rich in all 
the elements of plant life. From time to time as necessary 
(the necessity being determined by careful inspection on the part 
of my grandfather), the compost would be watered through the 
flume leading from the creek, thus being provided with the 
moisture needed to permit the earthworms to function to the 


greatest advantage in their life-work of converting compost to 

Within a few months the earthworms had completed their 
work. When spring arrived, the season of the annual plowing, 
the top layer of the heap would be stripped back, revealing the 
perfect work of the worms. What had originally been an ill- 
smelling mixture of manure, urine, and litter, was now a dark, 
fertile, crumbly soil, with the odor of fresh-turned earth. This 
material was not handled with forks, but with shovels. There 
were no dense cakes of burned, half-decomposed manure. My 
grandfather would take a handful of the material and smell of it 
before pronouncing it ready for the fields. The "smell test" 
was a sure way of judging the quality. When perfect trans- 
formation had taken place, all odor of manure had disappeared 
and the material had the clean smell of new earth. 

At this time of the year, the beginning of the spring plow- 
ing, the compost heap was almost a solid mass of earthworms 
and every shovel of material would contain scores of them. As 
I now know from years of study and experiment, every cubic 
foot of this material contained hundreds and hundreds of earth- 
worm egg-capsules, each of which, within two or three weeks 
after burial in the fields, would hatch out from two or three to 
as high as twenty worms. Thus the newly hatched earthworms 
became the permanent population of the soil, following their 
life-work of digesting the organic material, mixing and com- 
bining it with much earth in the process, and depositing it in 
and on the surface as castings a finely conditioned, homo- 
genized soil, rich in the stored and available elements of plant 
food in water-soluble form. 

When the spring plowing began, the following method was 
adopted: Several teams were used with the plows, while two or 
three farm wagons with deep beds were employed in hauling 
the crumbly end-product of the earthworms from the compost 
pit to the fields. The wagons worked ahead of the plows, the 
material being spread generously on the surface and quickly 


plowed under. Seldom was any material exposed on the surface 
more than a few minutes ahead of the plows, for part of the 
technique followed was to plow the egg-capsules and live earth- 
worms under, so that as many of the earthworms would survive 
as possible to continue their valuable work in the soil. Also it 
was necessary to plow the worms and capsules under as quickly 
as possible to escape the voracious, marauding crows which 
swarmed in great flocks to the feast of worms and capsules so 
thoughtfully spread for them. At this time, to my great delight, 
I was appointed crow hunter. Armed with a light shotgun, I 
industriously banged away at the crows to my heart's content, 
killing some of them and keeping hundreds of them at a dis- 
tance until the plows could turn the earth and bury the worms 
and capsules safe from the birds and the sun. I estimate that 
several tons per acre of this highly potent fertilizer material 
were annually plowed into the fields in perparation for the crops 
to follow. On account of this technique, not only was the earth 
continually occupied by a very numerous worm population tlie 
year round, but annually a generous "seeding" with live earth- 
worms and capsules was planted to replenish and help renew the 
fertility of the earth. 

More than forty years after my experience on my grand- 
father's farm, studies of the earthworms in the soil of Ohio were 
made by the Ohio State University. In plots of soil covered 
with bluegrass, on the Ohio State University Farm, they found 
earthworms in numbers of one million or more per acre. From 
my experience of almost a lifetime of study and experimentation 
with earthworms, I am sure that the earthworm population of 
my grandfather's farm far exceeded one million to the acre. 

In the annual distribution of the fertilizer, my grandfather 
never completely stripped the compost pit. One year he would 
begin the hauling at one end of the pit, stripping back the top 
layers of material which had not been broken down, leaving a 
generous portion at the other end of the pit as breeding and 
culture ground. After the hauling of the fertilizer was com- 


pleted, the entire remaining contents of the pit were evenly spread 
over the entire surface for "mother substance" and the new 
compost heap was thus begun. By this method there was al- 
ways left a very large number of breeding earthworms, with 
vast numbers of egg capsules, to repopulate the compost pit and 
carry on the highly important work of providing fertilizer for 
the coming year. In this warm, highly favorable environment, 
the worms multiplied with maximum rapidity. 

In my experiments in later years, I determined that cer- 
tain breeds of earthworms, in a favorable environment and with 
an abundance of food material to work on, will work ceaselessly 
in concentrations of more than 50,000 to the cubic yard; also, 
that 50,000 earthworms thus working will completely transform 
one cubic yard of material per month. Thus, in nature we have 
a constructive force which creates humus with amazing rapidity 
when given the opportunity and, under proper control, furnishes 
a method of utilizing every possible end-product of biological 
activity through the very simple process of composting with 

Going back to my grandfather's farm, his regular rotation 
of crops was corn, wheat, oats, timothy, and clover hay, in a 
three-year cycle. One forty-acre tract was planted to timothy 
and clover each year. A crop of hay was harvested and stored 
for the winter, the field was used for grazing, and finally a crop 
was turned under for green manure. In this manner, each 
year one forty was left undisturbed by the plow for a number 
of months, allowing the earthworm population to work and mul- 
tiply to the maximum, while converting the organic content of 
the earth into the finest form of humus. When the clover fields 
were plowed under an almost unbelievable number of earth- 
worms was revealed as the sod was turned. 

One fact I failed to mention was that this land was not 
usually considered the finest to begin with. It was a thin top- 
soil, only six to eight inches in depth over much of the farm, 
underlaid by limestone. On account of the shallow depth of the 


soil, deep subsoil plowing was not possible. I well remember 
how the plows would scoot along on top of the almost surface 
limestone layer. However, the vast earthworm population pene- 
trated deeply into the subsoil and constantly brought up parent 
mineral material to combine with the surface soil, which made 
up for the lack of deep soil. My grandfather often remarked 
that in all his sixty years of farming he had never had a crop 
failure. His corn was the finest in all the country and was 
eagerly sought for seed. He also originated a sweet corn, of a 
delicious flavor, which was very highly esteemed throughout that 
section and was known at that time as "Sheffield corn." The 
ears were very uniform and evenly filled to the end, and I re- 
member that the cob of this special corn was hardly larger than 
a carpenter's lead pencil. My grandfather never sold this corn, 
but reserved it to give to friends who came from far and wide 
for the prized seed and even wrote to him from distant points 
for seed. 

Now looking back through the long vista of years to the 
method practiced on my grandfather's farm, in the light of my 
own experience as well as the experience of a host of others, 
I am struck by the reflection that here was a simple farmer, 
working without any specialized knowledge of earthworms to 
begin with, long before Charles Darwin's famous book on The 
Formation of Vegetable Mould appeared; and yet, in an in- 
tensely practical way, utilizing all that Darwin later revealed in 
his great book, but with the exception that Darwin never sug- 
gested the "harnessing of the earthworm" for intensive human 
use. Darwin's classic study only emphasized the importance of 
the work of the earthworm in nature, with no practical applica- 
tion to the personal agricultural problems of man. 

Before ending this narrative of my grandfather's earthworm 
farm, I must mention the orchard, the garden, and the fence 
rows. The fence rows throughout the farm were planted to a 
great variety of fruit trees, which were allowed to develop from 
seedlings. Particularly do I remember the cherry trees, some 


of them fifty feet high and each tree bearing a different kind 
of fruit. In the four acres of orchard and garden surrounding 
the house there was produced a great variety of fruit, furnishing 
an abundance, in season, for the family as well as for many of 
the neighbors. In those days the fruit was not sold. I remem- 
ber an often-repeated remark of my grandfather upon the care 
of trees, especially fruit trees. He said, "Never disturb the soil 
under a tree. The earthworm is the best plow for a tree and 
I do not want them disturbed." The vegetable garden was espe- 
cially fine, kept wonderfully enriched from the compost pit, the 
soil being literally alive with earthworms. A profusion of flowers, 
both potted and otherwise, as well as a wealth of shrubbery, 
beautified the place. For choice flowers, we would use a rich 
mixture of fine soil and material from the compost pit. 

My grandfather's earthworm farm furnishes an example of 
the technique for utilizing the earthworm in general farming 
operations, either on a large or small scale. From my observa- 
tions as a small boy, supplemented by much friendly and loving 
instruction from my grandfather on the subject of earthworms, 
and from more than forty years' experience in my own work, I 
am fully convinced that the harnessing of the earthworm will 
be one of the major factors in the eventual salvation of the soil. 
I know that the soil can be made to produce several times as much 
as the present average, through the utilization of the earthworm. 


Orcharding With Earthworms 

IN THE story of "My Grandfather's Earthworm Farm" George 
Sheffield is quoted as saying, in regard to the care of trees, 
"Never disturb the soil under a tree." The wisdom of this re- 
mark is appreciated fully only when a study is made of the 
subject of orcharding. When we go to nature where primeval 
forests have stood for centuries, we find the ground riddled to 
great depth by earthworm burrows. Earthworms like to work in 
the shade, among the fine roots of trees, finding sustenance in 
the organic debris and bacterial life of the soil, in the dead bac- 
teria as well as the products of bacterial life. Aside from vege- 
tation, there is a vast world of unseen bacterial life in the soil, 
amounting in aggregate weight in the case of fertile agricultural 
lands to much more than all animal life which crawls, creeps, 
walks, runs, and flies on and above the surface of the ground. 
Because we do not see this microscopic universe, we may not 
visualize or sense its extent. 

The multiplication of bacteria is so rapid that, starting with 
a single cell, under favorable conditions, the numbers will reach 
astronomical figures within a few hours, with a bulk and weight 
of such magnitude that the human mind cannot grasp the total. 
The number of bacteria in an ounce of fertile topsoil is variously 
estimated as from eighteen million to twenty-four billion. When 
we consider that bacteria appear as dots under the microscope 



when magnified one thousand times, the results of such multi- 
plication become still harder to grasp. If we were to magnify 
a man to one thousand times his size, he would appear more 
than one mile tall and a quarter-mile broad. On this point we 
shall quote from Bacteria in Relation to Soil Fertility*, by Dr. 
Joseph E. Greaves (M.S., Ph.D., Professor of Bacteriology and 
Physiological Chemistry, Utah Agricultural College) : 

A bacterial generation is taken as the time required for a 
mature cell to divide and the resulting daughter cells to reach 
maturity. This process may be completed in half an hour at 
times even more rapidly. Under less favorable circumstances it 
may be much longer. It has been estimated that if bacterial mul- 
tiplication went unchecked the descendants of one cell would in 
two days number 281,500,000,000, and that in three days the 
descendants of this single cell would weigh 148,356,000 pounds. 
It has been further estimated by an eminent biologist that if 
proper conditions could be maintained for their life activity, in 
less than five days they would make a mass which would com- 
pletely fill as much space as is occupied by all the oceans on the 
.earth's surface, if the water had an average depth of one mile. 

Lest some reader becomes alarmed about bacteria, let us 
state that they are self-limiting, the same as other life-forms, 
being strictly limited by the amount of food available in their 
environment. Also, the by-products of their own life-processes 
accumulate rapidly and, as it were, they are soon stewing in 
their own juice to their own destruction. Incidentally, it is 
doubtful that, in the absence of the bacterial life of the soil, 
the higher forms of animal life could exist. Like the earthworm, 
bacteria are the unseen but ceaseless transformers of the end- 
products of life back to the soil in the eternal cycle from 
earth, through life, back to the earth. 

The above may at first appear as a digression from the 
subject of orcharding. However, in considering the nutrition 

*P*ge 26. 


of trees through the aid of earthworms, it is important to under- 
stand fully the source of nutrition for the worms as well as for 
the trees. There is much more sustenance in the soil than may 
be derived from the gross forms of vegetation in and above 
the earth. So, in considering the life of a tree and its nutrition, 
it is well to examine the elements which enter into its growth 
and maintenance. 

We stand in awed amazement as we contemplate a Sequoia 
gigantea, towering nearly three hundred feet into the air, bear- 
ing within its bulk trainloads of material, carrying concealed 
within its growth-rings its recorded age record of perhaps three 
to five thousand years. Where did it come from, how did it 
grow, from what hidden source does its mighty heart draw its 
inconceivable strength? No man has carried small bags of 
chemical fertilizer in a foolish attempt to help nourish this tree 
into its giant size. No man-made plow has disturbed the sur- 
face of the earth at its base. Yet here it stands, with a life- 
span reaching toward a geological age. We are reminded of 
the scriptural injunction, "Consider the lilies, how they grow," 
and might well paraphrase the line to read, "Consider the trees, 
how they grow !" 

When we come to orcharding with the aid of earthworms, 
we should not be too much concerned about fertilizers, or worry 
at all about cultivation. The thing to do is to offer a little 
friendly cooperation with nature, stand back, and watch the tree 

While the same principles apply to orcharding in general, 
our studies of the earthworm in orcharding have been confined 
for the most part to citrus orcharding, by reason of the fact 
that we live in Southern California where citrus fruit is the main 
orcharding industry. Some time ago we visited the great orange- 
growing section around Riverside, California, the particular end 
of our journey being "Hanford Loam," a grove which the 
owner, Mr. Frank Hinckley, has operated by the non-cultivation 
method for a period of more than twenty years. Mr. Hinckley 


is a hard-headed, successful orange grower and business man 
who has made money growing oranges. He has been growing 
oranges all his life and his experience covers a period of more 
than forty yiears. He is well educated, well informed, methodical, 
and practical ; and, as he has kept careful records for many years, 
he has his data and knows what he is talking about. The ten- 
acre tract comprising Hanford Loam is one of the outstanding 
groves of the state. We were amazed at the size and luxuriance 
of the trees. Many of the leaves were of such unusual size 
as to be almost unbelievable when compared with the foliage 
of the average orange tree. 

Mr. Hinckley's own story of his experience in developing 
this grove conveys the facts in a most forceful manner. After 
our visit to his place, we wrote him a letter requesting a report 
for our records. Under date of October 17, 1939, we received 
the following letter. 


I have your letter of October 10th and will try to give 
some information that will be of value in your research. 

I might say that my experience with the earthworms is more 
on the practical side than on the experimental. On one of my 
ten-acre groves, Hanford Loam, I discontinued all cultivation 
about eighteen years ago. At that time the twenty-eight-year- 
old trees appeared to have reached their limit as to size and pro- 
duction, about three hundred boxes per acre per year. 

The first year after changing my cultural method to one of 
non- cultivation, I noticed a great difference in water penetra- 
tion. Plow sole was eliminated, the trees started growing, and 
they have continued to do so ever since, until now they are 
large, fine trees, and my production average for the last fifteen 
years has been about 630 boxes per acre per year. 

Soon after I quit all cultivation, I noticed that the earth- 
worms were doing a wonderful job of tilling the soil ; they 
eliminated all plow sole, leaving the ground porous and mellow. 
I also perceived that they were feeding on the leaves that had 
accumulated in the furrows and around under the trees. Raking 
the leaves out from under the trees and placing them beneath the 


drip of the trees encouraged the worms to work that portion 
of the soil most, as it kept more moist. Under such ideal con- 
ditions, the earthworms rapidly increased until now they are 
able to work every foot of soil in my grove in fact, I might 
say. the soil is continually in motion. As the trees have a heavy 
foliage of large leaves, the leaf-drop seems to furnish ample 
food for the worms. 

I have used a soluble commercial fertilizer, calcium nitrate 
or sulphate of ammonia, for the past twenty years, with the 
exception of one year when I used cottonseed meal. Until six 
years ago I averaged about 3^4 pounds of actual nitrogen per 
tree per year, but the last six years I have averaged 1 1/3 pounds 
of actual nitrogen per tree per year. There has been no organic 
matter added to this grove since the fall of 1919. The quality 
of the fruit has been above the average; also the sizes have 
been in the desirable brackets. In my opinion there is no doubt 
that the earthworms add fertility on the soil besides conditioning it. 

I also have a twenty-acre grove in sandy soil, which I took 
care of in the mechanical way for fourteen years, and I saw 
very few worms in all that time. For the past fourteen years, 
however, I have applied my non-cultivation method, and the 
worms are increasing every year. They started at the lower end 
of the furrows, where the soil is heaviest ; and as the soil changes 
from the accumulation of leaves around the trees, the worms 
are able to live and increase. 

These groves are kept clean of weeds by hoeing; the fur- 
rows have become shallow and wide from hoeing and raking 
the leaves. The water can thus cover a larger area of the sur- 
face, making as much soil as possible available for the worms 
to use during the dry season, without extra expense. 

I also have a lot of sixty-five orange trees at home, which 
I purchased a year ago. This soil is a heavy red soil and very 
subject to plow sole. I am well pleased with the way the worms 
have multiplied and eliminated the plow sole under my method 
within the year; and they will no doubt continue to better the 
soil and aid the trees. 

In regard to the amount of water used, I find that since 
the worms have opened up the soil water penetrates more freely. 
I can irrigate in a much shorter time and with a larger volume 
of water per furrow. Under this method of non-cultivation, I 
use a little less water, but the trees are able to use more of that 
which is applied. 


Our Deputy Farm Adviser is making a graph, consisting 
of the sizes, grades, and amount of boxes covering the past 
twenty years. When I receive these data, I will be glad to send 
them to you if you so desire. Thank you for your interest in 
my work. 

Very truly, 


At the date of this writing, January of 1944, it is of in- 
terest to point out that Mr. Hinckley had eliminated the plow 
from his orcharding operations more than twenty years before 
the appearance of Edward H. Faulkner's book, Plowman's Folly, 
currently on its way to becoming a best seller. Since receiving 
the above report from Mr. Hinckley, we have visited his place 
a number of times and a good many interesting details have been 
brought out, with many things not covered in his letter. One 
of the most astonishing statements was made by him in answer 
to our question, "How much money do you have invested in 
machinery?" Mr. Hinckley replied: "I have thirty acres in 
oranges in Hanford Loam and another grove near there. I be- 
lieve my total investment in machinery is less than ten dollars, 
consisting of hoes and rakes. A near neighbor, with thirty-two 
acres of oranges, has over four thousand dollars' worth of ma- 
chinery and hires an expert to operate it. I call in a Mexican 
boy every other month and we go over my groves with hoe and 
rake to eliminate the few weeds which come from seeds that 
are blown in by the wind." 

Mr. Hinckley stated that after the initial change from the 
old cultural methods, his labor costs were less. By use of the 
hoe promptly to eliminate weeds, never allowing them to go 
to seed, the orchard was soon practically free from weeds. No 
tractors or machines are required in the non-cultivation method ; 
therefore the trees do not need to be trimmed high. In Mr. 
Hinckley's orchard the trees have been allowed to develop until 
the limbs practically touch the ground, maintaining a dense shade 
over the entire surface and an unfavorable environment for 


weeds. Also the shade conserves surface moisture and this fa- 
vors the development of a large earthworm population. 

In the case of Mr. Hinckley, there was no special propaga- 
tion of earthworms. He simply created a favorable environment 
for the development of the native earthworm population, discon- 
tinued plowing and breaking up their breeding grounds, provided 
cover for the worms in the form of leaf-drop raked underneath 
the drip of the tree, and the worms began to multiply. After 
a few years this grove has become one vast earthworm culture 
bed. At the time this chapter is written, Mr. Hinckley's orchard 
is over fifty years old and is in greater production than ever be- 
fore, whereas at the time the new method was started the grove 
was twenty-eight years old and was not showing a profit. In 
fact, it was going back. 

In orcharding with the aid of earthworms, a small, highly 
productive, long-lived orchard, with top quality fruit, lower labor 
costs, less fertilizer costs, and the practical elimination of culls, 
can be made to take the place of a much larger acreage under 
the generally accepted cultural methods. Through earthworm cul- 
ture, young groves can be brought to profitable production in 
a much shorter period of time than by the old methods ; and 
the life of a grove, with earthworms instead of plows, extends 
far beyond the life of a grove where the earthworms are 
constantly retarded in their development by frequent ploughing. 
And where heavy use of chemical fertilizers is the practice, the 
earthworm population may entirely disappear, and, in addition, 
the highly important bacterial life of the soil be inhibited. 

The quickest method for developing earthworms in orchards 
is to establish generous colonies of "domesticated earthworms" 
under each tree, with organic fertilization similar to that used 
on "My Grandfather's Earthworm Farm." By this method the 
proliferation of earthworms is accelerated many times beyond 
anything found in nature. Within a few months results may 
be obtained which would otherwise require years. Methods for 


intensive propagation of domesticated earthworms for all hor- 
ticultural purposes will be taken up in later chapters. 

Since becoming acquainted with Mr. Hinckley and his 
methods and results through "earthworm tillage," we have had 
reports from a number of other orchardists. We will mention 
one small tract in particular, a five-acre grove near Costa Mesa, 
California. It is handled by methods similar to Mr. Hinckley's 
grove ; that is, methods which we have called "earthworm tillage." 
For the year 1945 the owner of this grove stated that he received 
a gross amount of $7,500 for his orange crop from these five 
acres. Examination shows that the entire tract is really a great 
earthworm culture bed. From a few such reports investigated, 
we are led to conclude that the earthworm doubtless deserves 
credit for many of the outstanding results which have been ob- 
served in other successful orchards. 

While we have discussed the earthworm in citrus orchard- 
ing, the same principles apply to other types of orcharding, as 
well as to general farming and production of food crops. What 
we wish to emphasize, regardless of vegetation under considera- 
tion, is that with earthworms and the other allied forces of 
nature, utilized properly, we obtain a soil with a maximum of 
plant nutrients in available form. From such soil, experience 
has shown that maximum production results are obtained, both 
in quantity and quality. 


Domesticated Earthworms 

IN THE unhurried processes of nature it may require from forty 
to fifty years for native earthworms to spread slowly from a 
single breeding colony and fully impregnate an acre of ground. 
In England, where the earthworms had been working in a fairly 
favorable environment through geological ages, Darwin found 
native earthworms in numbers ranging from 25,000 to 50,000 
or more per acre in some soils, which means less than one worm 
per cubic foot of surface soil. Even in these small numbers, as 
has been pointed out, Darwin estimated that from ten to eighteen 
tons of dry material per acre passed through the bodies of 
earthworms in England each year to be deposited in and on 
the surface as castings. 

We have previously mentioned the earthworms in the State 
of Ohio, where they have been found in bluegrass land in num- 
bers upwards of a million per acre. If we figure an average 
working depth of thirty inches, one million worms per acre 
would mean, in round numbers, about ten worms per cubic foot. 
A population of two to four native earthworms per cubic foot 
in farm soil or other soil is considered a quite numerous earth- 
worm population. In previous pages we have shown the almost 
incredible amount of cultivation and translocation of soil which 
earthworms perform under favorable conditions. In intensive 
propagation and use, we control the environment and create 
nutritional conditions which are most favorable to proliferation 



and growth of earthworms. We commonly develop culture beds 
with concentrations of as many as 3,000 worms per cubic foot, 
with corresponding results in the production of humus. To 
breed worms in such great numbers in limited space, we must, 
of course, provide food material and soil-building elements for 
them to work with. It should always be borne in mind that 
worms live on the organic contents of the soil. Therefore, if 
the soil furnished them is deficient in organic material, the 
worms cannot live in it. They do not secure any nutrition from 
the purely mineral content of the soil, but only from the or- 
ganic content that has been derived through life processes. 

In the adaptation of the earthworm as a controlled servant 
of man, the elements of chance must be eliminated and results 
must be measured in units of time. While we may build soil 
for future generations, we want to have the benefit of the soil 
here and now, and this is the reason for intensive breeding of 
earthworms. Working with the sure methods of definite pur- 
pose and knowledge, we may achieve results within a few months 
which would otherwise require many decades to accomplish, 
were we to wait on the leisurely processes of nature, which 
take no account of time. 

In using the term "domesticated earthworm," we are re- 
ferring to a breed of earthworms which has been developed and 
modified by selective breeding and feeding over a period of 
several years, to meet the requirements for intensive use in 
horticulture and agriculture. The original object of the ex- 
perimental work which led to the development of the domesticated 
earthworm was to eliminate the elements of chance which are 
encountered in dealing with the exceedingly numerous varieties 
of native earthworms ; to speed up results to meet the demands 
of practical people under all conditions and environments, both 
city and country; and, above all, to develop an earthworm which 
would be adaptable to every kind of soil and food and one which 
could be changed readily from one environment to another. The 
ordinary native earthworm is a slave to the environment into 


which it is born. It is hatched from the egg-capsule as a f-ull- 
fledged earthworm and immediately begins its life-work of de- 
vouring the surrounding soil in search for sustenance. It grows 
to maturity on the available food present, and its chemical 
makeup adapts itself to the particular element in which it lives. 
Transfer the native earthworm to a different soil or food, and 
it will usually die, or at least require a long period of time to 
adapt itself and become prolific in the new location. 

Another important consideration in earthworm culture is 
the question of fertility and proliferation. In some species, great 
numbers of infertile capsules are produced and only one or two 
worms will be hatched from the fertile capsule. In other species 
practically all the capsules are fertile, and each will hatch out 
from three or four to as high as twenty worms. Some species 
Jive and thrive only in a very limited range of soil acidity; in 
fact, must have an almost neutral soil to survive. Others will 
thrive and multiply in a very wide range of soil, from very acid 
to markedly alkaline. The serious importance of this point of 
soil acidity will be appreciated by those who have made some 
study of the chemical nature of soils and plant nutrition. 

In what we have termed "selective feeding and breeding," 
various species of earthworms were used, habits observed, unde- 
sirable members culled out, and gradually cultures of earthworms 
were obtained which answered the purposes of intensive propaga- 
tion under control for horticultural, agricultural, and other uses. 
When we speak of "domesticated earthworms," we are dealing 
with native earthworms which have been modified by environ- 
ment and feeding. When earthworm egg-capsules are hatched 
out in a new environment, that environment becomes the natural 
one for the newly hatched worms, whereas a worm which has 
developed in an entirely different environment might not survive 
if transplanted into a strange soil. It is this fact of the adapt- 
ability of the newly hatched worm to the particular soil in which 
it is hatched which makes it possible to engage in intensive earth- 
worm culture for the production of egg-capsules which, when 


placed in a new environment, will hatch worms that are adapted 
to the soil in which they are born. 

So great is the modification of various species of native 
earthworms, under special environmental conditions and feed- 
ing, that the layman or untrained observer may conclude that he 
has produced a new species of earthworm. However, when we 
submit the "domesticated earthworm" to a competent zoologist 
for laboratory identification and classification, we learn that we 
are still dealing with some species of native earthworm which 
has been modified by changes in environment and nutritional 
factors. Thus when we observe marked changes in earthworms, 
under special breeding and cultural conditions, we should not 
jump to the conclusion that we have discovered or produced a 
new species of earthworm. As stated before, earthworms have 
survived through remote geological ages down to the present 
practically unchanged as to species, but with widely varying 
characteristics in different localities, such characteristics being 
due to the fact that the worms change and adapt themselves to 
the nutritional environment into which they have been hatched. 
The wide distribution of earthworms throughout the earth is 
due to the fact that they can adapt themselves to new environ- 
ments and new foods. 

Regardless of where earthworms are found, or what species 
we are dealing with, the one important fact to bear in mind is 
that all of them accomplish the same end they eat their way 
through the earth, swallowing the soil with all that it contains, 
carrying it through the digestive mill of the alimentary canal, 
and finally ejecting it as highly refined and conditioned topsoil. 

At this point, we wish to give full credit to the late Dr. 
George Sheffield Oliver for the development of the "domesticated 
earthworm" which we have used in our soil-building research. 
In the story of "My Grandfather's Earthworm Farm," we have 
the background of Dr. Oliver's later experiments and accom- 
plishments in earthworm culture. His experiences as a small 
boy on that Ohio farm implanted in his young mind those in- 


eradicable memories and impressions, with definite knowledge 
of the value of earthworms, which many years later led him 
into intensive earthworm farming. More than forty years after 
leaving his grandfather's farm, Dr. Oliver found himself en- 
gaged in 'landscape gardening. His mind naturally turned to 
ways and means for utilizing his early knowledge of earthworms. 
Recalling that great earthworm culture bed in his grandfather's 
barnyard, about which the whole economy of the farm revolved, 
he began his own experiments with earthworms, which led to 
the development of the domesticated earthworm. To the day of 
his death Dr. Oliver was firmly convinced that he had succeeded 
in producing a hybrid earthworm. This point is not highly im- 
portant. The important point is that through his work of 
selective feeding and breeding he did succeed in producing an 
earthworm with characteristics which answer perfectly all the 
requirements for intensive propagation and use. To get first- 
hand information on the development of this modified worm, we 
applied to Dr. Oliver himself. The story is best given in his own 
words, a letter written under the date of January 30, 1940, which 
we quote as follows : 


In answer to your request for information about the develop- 
ment of what you call the domesticated earthworm, it is a long 
story. It would take a rather large book to record the details 
of my ups and downs while experimenting with earthworms. I 
will try to give you the essential facts as briefly as possible. To 
begin with, your term "domesticated earthworm" is a quite ap- 
propriate name, for the worms which I have developed certainly 
like to live at home. One of their most valuable charcteristics 
is that they do not wander away from the vicinity where the 
home colony has been established. 

As you know, my interest in earthworms dates from the 
time I lived for a number of years on my grandfather's farm 
back in Ohio. Later on, Charles Darwin brought out his famous 
book on the Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action 
of Earthworms, which confirmed in a scientific way what I had 


already learned from practical experience. From time immemo- 
rial farmers and gardeners have recognized that plants and 
vegetables prosper in soil where there are plenty of earthworms, 
but few have given any thought to why this is true. In general, 
people who have worked with the soil have simply accepted 
earthworms as one of the inhabitants of good soil, never realizing 
that the worm had anything to do with the building of the soil. 

In my investigations I found scattered instances where 
farmers who fertilized their land with manure from neighbor- 
hood stables attempted to transplant manure-bred worms to their 
fields. Every attempt ultimately failed, as the transplanted worms 
did not survive. So far as I have been able to learn, no sincere 
attempt was made to discover why such earthworms perished 
when moved. My own experiments and research brought to light 
the fact that earthworms are as much in need of the food and 
soil on which they have been raised as a fish is in need of water. 
Manure-bred worms demand manure; soil-bred worms demand 
soil and decaying vegetable matter and humus. 

My first efforts to develop a satisfactory hybrid earthworm 
were made in 1927 when I was engaged in landscape artistry. 
Selected specimens of earthworms found in various sections of 
the United States were studied, bred and interbred. Most of my 
observations, coming under practical conditions, showed that the 
brandling (commonly known as the manure worm) possessed 
highly favorable qualities which, if transmitted and retained by 
a hybrid, would be very advantageous. Chief among these fa- 
vorable qualities was the fact that the brandling never deposited 
its excretions above the surface of the soil. One of the main 
objections which has been made to the use of earthworms (in 
fact, about the only legitimate objection) is the habit of the 
ordinary native earthworm of building little piles of lobed cast- 
ings on lawns and golf links. On lawns such piles of castings 
are unsightly, while on golf links they are such a nuisance that 
in many places the worms are killed out by the use of poisons 
and mineral fertilizers. Golf requires perfectly smooth surfaces 
for best results and the little hillocks of castings made by the 
earthworms are often large enough to divert the ball. In some 
sections, particularly in England, the native earthworms produce 
such mounds of castings that lawns, golf courses, and cricket 
grounds have to be rolled regularly in order to keep the surface 
smooth for good sport and sightliness. 

So the quality of delivering its excretions under the surface 


is a most desirable one ; and a most necessary one if earthworms 
are to be used extensively in choice lawns and golf courses. A 
second important point in considering the brandling is the fact 
that, by leaving its castings under the surface of the soil near 
the root-zone, all the valuable elements of plant food in the cast- 
ings are readily available to the roots of plants and vegetables; 
also, the thoroughly humidified castings, with high ammonia con- 
tent, are not exposed to the air and dried out. 

Another characteristic of the manure worm (brandling) is 
its habit of living close to the surface, seldom going deeper than 
six inches. Such a burrowing earthworm will cultivate the soil 
thoroughly about the upper roots of plants and vegetables. It 
was my desire to retain this valuable characteristic, if possible, 
but at the same time secure a worm that would burrow deep into 
the soil and bring up the subsoil with its rich chemical elements 
so necessary in the renewal of the topsoil. 

My search for a deep-burrowing earthworm to mate with the 
brandling was finally rewarded. I examined the earth about the 
deep roots of large trees which were being transplanted and dis- 
covered numerous earthworms which evidently spent most of the 
time deep in the ground. Such worms have been found as deep 
as ten to twelve feet or more, and very generally five and six feet 
deep. This worm was a large species of Lumbricus terrestris 
(orchard worm, rainworm, night lion, angleworm, and a number 
of other popular names in different localities), of an average 
length of six to eight inches, but sometimes reaching ten to twelve 
inches in size, whereas the manure worm is a medium-sized worm 
of an average length of three or four inches. 

Being satisfied that this type of orchard worm would be ideal 
for experimentation, I selected healthy specimens of both the 
brandling and the orchard worm in the hope of producing a 
fertile cross. These were placed in a special mixture of approxi- 
mately one-third soil, one-third vegetable humus, and one-third 
decayed animal manure. Such a composition contains all the 
elements necessary for plant life and in this instance contained 
plenty of food suitable for both the brandling and the orchard 

In the course of time examination of the soil revealed earth- 
worm capsules, and copulation of the earthworms was observed. 
I carefully gleaned these first capsules from the soil and placed 
them in a separate container. When these were hatched and grew 
to near maturity, the weaker and less promising were culled out 


and the stronger ones were retained as breeders. During the 
first six months about one thousand hybrids had been selected 
as breeders and were mating and producing fertile eggs. For a 
period of several years I continued careful selective breeding and 
feeding until I had developed a hybrid which breeds true to form 
and is perfectly adapted for intensive propagation and use in 
horticulture and agriculture. 

While the story of my experiments appears very simple in 
the recounting, it should be stated that a full five years were 
consumed in these experiments. However, the results obtained 
in orchards, nurseries, gardens, lawns, and poultry houses have 
proved that this five years' time spent was fully justified. To 
summarize results for the earthworm culturist, from a practical 
standpoint, this domesticated hybrid has many charcteristics of 
special value, some of them being : 

It is a prolific breeder, under favorable conditions producing 
one egg capsule every seven days. A very high percentage of 
the capsules are fertile and they hatch out from four to twenty 
young worms each. 

It is a free animal, readily adapting itself to any food en- 
vironment or soil. Thus all the wastes of the ordinary family 
can be composted and used for earthworm food. It turns these 
end-products into rich humus, practically odorless and contain- 
ing all the elements necessary for growing choice plants and 

It is not migratory. Thus when a breeding colony is es- 
tablished under a tree, in a flower bed, under a rosebush, or 
elsewhere, the home breeding center remains and the worms 
gradually spread in all directions in an ever-widening circle, until 
all the surrounding ground is thickly populated with this prolific 
breeder and cultivator of the soil. 

A point which should be strongly emphasized is that this 
hybrid worm produces a very fine, granular casting instead of a 
lobed casting. The castings do not stick together, but are de- 
posited as a very evenly distributed layer on the surface. In 
loose, crumbly material, many of the castings are deposited below 
the surface in proximity to the rootlets where they are needed. 

While I was not experimenting particularly to produce fish 
bait, this hybrid is unexcelled for bait. It is very active, of a 
good red color, and will remain alive on a fish-hook for a num- 
ber of hours when properly impaled. 


It is a medium-sized worm, averaging only three to four 
inches in length when fully mature. This is especially advan- 
tageous in the case of delicate flowers and fine seedlings, as the 
small worm riddles the earth with its fine aerating tunnels with- 
out disturbing the tiny rootlets and without drying out the soil 
too much. 

Such, in brief, is the story of the evolution of the "domes- 
ticated earthworm." I feel that in writing your book on Harness- 
ing the Earthworm you are doing a real and lasting service to 
humanity. I look forward with keen interest and anticipation 
to its publication. 

Cordially yours, 



The question is frequently asked, "Why go to the expense 
of purchasing domesticated earthworms, if native earthworms 
do the same work?" Our answer is that anything worth doing 
is worth doing well. By taking advantage of the experience of 
those who have spent years in study and research, the beginner 
can avoid many mistakes and much expensive labor. Earthworm 
culture is very much the same as working with other animals 
or with plants. The labor is the main cost put into the work. 
It takes just as much time to work with scrub stock as with 
thoroughbreds. It takes the same amount of time to grow a 
seedling tree as to grow some choice variety that has been de- 
veloped and tested. 

While earthworm culture can be established and developed 
with the available native worms, it pays to make the start with 
the domesticated variety, as they are sure to be prolific, are 
adaptable to all sorts of food and soil, and will work the year 
round where the temperature is warm enough. The small ex- 
pense of starting right is soon absorbed in the results obtained. 
One friend wrote us that he started with 250 earthworm egg- 
capsules and within two years he estimated that he had 500,000 


breeders in his culture bed. Once adequate breeding stock has 
been developed, earthworm production can be carried into astro- 
nomical figures very quickly by composting and handling the 
material properly. The life of one man is too short to carry 
out original research into the subject. But this is not necessary, 
as the facts have already been established through long years 
of experimentation by many different people. Darwin's experi- 
ments and research extended over a period of more than fifty 
years before he published his findings. Since the time of Dar- 
win, literally thousands of experimenters, including scientists, 
laymen, and practical farmers and gardeners, have verified the 
facts which he established. Therefore, it is not necessary to 
carry out long experimentation for verification of the basic facts. 
Our advice to those who desire to make a start in earth- 
worm culture is: Secure an adequate supply of domesticated 
earthworm egg-capsules, or a culture of domesticated earthworms, 
and go to work. The technique of intensive propagation and 
use is so simple that a child can understand and follow it. Ma- 
terials used in breeding earthworms are the same materials that 
should be incorporated into the soil anyway in building up and 
maintaining a high state of productive fertility. By utilizing 
these materials through earthworm culture, results are much more 
quickly obtained and more satisfactory than by the ordinary 
methods. After all is said, the main expense in soil-building is 
the time and labor spent. Once earthworm culture is established, 
the small initial investment of money in making the right start is 
soon absorbed in increased land values, increased production, and 
increased living satisfaction. 

O **) 


f-H V. 


Breeding Habits of the Earthworm 

EACH individual of the earthworm family is both male and fe- 
male (hermaphrodite), having both eggs and spermatozoa, but 
it is not self -fertilizing. An act of copulation is necessary in 
order that eggs may become fertile. Situated back from the 
head about one-third the length of the worm is the "clitellum," 
a band of tissue surrounding the body. The Century Dic- 
tionary gives a very good definition of the clitellum. We quote 
in part: "... the saddle of an annelid, as the earthworm; a 
peculiar glandular ring around the body, resulting from the swell- 
ing and other modification of certain segments. It is a sexual 
organ, producing a tough, viscid secretion by which two worms 
are bound together in a kind of copulation." The clitellum is 
easily identified, as it stands out above the surface of the body 
as a distinct band, darker in color than the rest of the body. 

In a bulletin titled, The Earthworms of Ohio, issued by the 
Ohio Biological Survey, Dr. Henry W. Olson gives a very con- 
cise and clear description of the act of copulation and the repro- 
ductive functions of earthworms. We quote in part from this 
description : 

Each individual is a male and female (hermaphrodite), so 
anyone of the same species will do for a mate. Though having 
both eggs and spermatozoa, they are not self -fertilizing, but mu- 
tually fertilize each other's eggs . . . 







Earthmaster Farms, Roscoe, California 


The two worms meet and overlap one another to about one- 
third to one- fourth of their lengths, with the heads facing in 
opposite directions and the ventral sides in contact. They then 
secrete quantities of viscous mucus, which forms a thick band 
about the cliteller regions of their bodies. These mucous bands 
surround both bodies and serve to bind the copulating individuals 
tightly together. Each worm then acts as a male, giving off a 
quantity of seminal fluid that is conducted along the grooves 
to the seminal receptacles of the other, where it is picked up 
and stored. After the worms have separated, the slime tube 
which is formed by the clitellum of the worm is worked forward 
over the body, collecting albumen from the glands of the ventral 
side. As it passes over the fourteenth segment, it collects a few 
eggs from the oviducts and then passes the ninth and tenth seg- 
ments, where it receives spermatozoa from the seminal recepta- 
cles where they have been stored up. The sperm then fertilizes 
the eggs. The slime tube is gradually slipped off over the head, 
closing up as though with a draw-string, as first its anterior end 
and then its posterior end slips off over the sharp prostomium. 

This closed slime tube, with the fertilized eggs and nutritive 
fluid which it contains, constitutes the cocoon. In this cocoon 
the eggs develop directly into the young worms, which, when 
ready to emerge, crawl out through one end of the cocoon after 
the slime plug has been dissolved away. The cocoons vary in 
size and shape, according to the species. The smallest are hardly 
one millimeter in length, while the largest are as large as eight 
millimeters ... In Lumbricus terrestris (commonly known as the 
orchard worm, rainworm, and various other popular names), 
the capsules are lemon-shaped, having an olive color. The num- 
ber of eggs in the capsules of Helodrilus trapezoides is from 
three to eight ; in those of Lumbricus terrestris it is from four to 
twenty. All of the eggs of the Lumbricus terrestris become 
fecundated and develop; on the other hand, in the capsules of 
H. trapezoides one egg only, or rarely two or three, produce 
embryos . . . The embryos escape as small worms in about two 
to three weeks. 

Under favorable conditions, which means plenty of food, 
moisture, and mild summer temperature, the domesticated earth- 
worm will produce one of the lemon-shaped egg-capsules every 
seven to ten days. The capsule (cocoon) may contain from 


two or three to as high as twenty fertile eggs. In a moist, warm 
environment, the incubating period is from two to three weeks. 

The newborn worms first appear as whitish bits of thread, 
about one-quarter inch long or smaller. They gradually become 
darker within a few hours and within a few days can be readily 
identified as tiny, reddish-colored earthworms. To the untrained 
eye, the newborn worms are visible only after a careful search 
for them. Except for size, they are hatched as full-fledged earth- 
worms and immediately begin their life-work of devouring earth 
with all it contains, digesting and utilizing the organic food 
material from the ingested earth, and finally depositing the residue 
on or near the surface as castings. 

While the newborn worms are hard to see, there is no dif- 
ficulty in identifying the egg-capsules. The color is usually 
radically different from that of the soil, varying from light 
lemon color in freshly passed capsules to a dark purple in cap- 
sules nearing maturity and ready to hatch. Size varies, depending 
on the size of the worm from which they come, ranging from 
the size of a pin-head to about the size of a grain of rice. A 
handful of earth from a properly prepared culture box may con- 
tain several dozen capsules. 

While the normal incubating period at right temperature 
has been stated to be from two to three weeks, this period may 
be extended almost indefinitely by drying out the capsules or by 
refrigeration. Under ordinary conditions of temperature and 
moisture as found in the earth at the time the capsules are 
produced, they will incubate and hatch within the normal period. 
On the other hand, if the capsules happen to be subjected to 
the heat of the sun and dry out, or are dried purposely for 
preservation, they may remain dormant and fertile for months 
and then swell and develop under proper temperature and 
moisture. Capsules have been reported to have hatched out after 
lying dormant for eighteen months. Also, capsules may be placed 
in refrigeration at temperatures ranging from fifty degrees and 
lower, and thus kept dormant and fertile until they are desired 

(called "egg-capsules") 

Pen drawing natural size 


for use. In frozen ground and manure piles and frozen compost 
heaps, as soon as the spring thaw comes and the earth or manure 
warms up, great numbers of capsules which have been dormant 
will hatch out. This stability of the fertile eggs under many 
different conditions accounts for the very wide distribution of 
the earthworm over the earth, from the far north to the tropics, 
from sea level to high altitudes. Capsules become dried out 
and are carried great distances and scattered by the wind in new 
locations. They may stick to dry soil on the hoofs or hides of 
animals and be transported from one place to another. They 
are sometimes swallowed by birds and fail to digest and are 
then dropped in a new location, perhaps on a high mountain 
or on an island of the sea, or some other out-of-the-way place 
where it would have been impossible for a mature worm to find 
its way. Earthworm capsules are often transported great dis- 
tances on the roots of plants and start a colony hundreds or 
thousands of miles from the original location. On account of 
this stability, it is possible to produce earthworm egg-capsules 
commercially and ship them to any part of the world, thus 
enabling people anywhere to establish intensive earthworm cul- 
ture for impregnation of the earth or for other purposes. 

After hatching, the young worm develops rapidly and in 
from sixty to ninety days will reach the reproductive stage and 
may begin to produce capsules. This does not mean that the 
worm is fully grown in this length of time, but means that the 
reproductive organs have reached a point of maturity where they 
will begin to function. The egg-capsules from these young worms 
may be almost microscopic in size and difficult to find. It will 
usually require several months to a year for a domesticated 
earthworm to reach full mature size, averaging about four inches 
in length. If desired for use as fishbait, the older worms are 

In a favorable environment an earthworm will live for many 
years. One report was given of an observation carried out for 
a period of fifteen years and the worm under this experiment 


appeared just as young as ever. As a matter of fact, the earth- 
worm is about as nearly perfect a digestive apparatus as can be 
conceived of in the animal world. Its secretions take care of 
every form of food, both acid and alkaline sugars, starches, 
proteins, fats. Equipped with a powerful gizzard, it does not 
have to select or chew the food. The worm swallows anything 
small enough to enter its mouth, including grains of sand and 
small stones which act as millstones in the gizzard, which grinds 
and mixes everything. It absorbs and assimilates nutrients from 
the swallowed material. It breaths through the skin and elimi- 
nates through the skin. So, barring accidental destruction, earth- 
worms should enjoy comparative immortality in the flesh, re- 
maining eternally youthful through perfect assimilation and elimi- 

As earthworms are both male and female in one body, a 
colony may be established from one fertile earthworm or from 
a single egg-capsule. With a capsule being produced every seven 
to ten days and hatching from one or two to twenty worms, it 
can be seen that production will soon reach astronomical figures. 
Those who are particularly interested in mathematics can take 
a pencil and paper and figure it out. There is no difficulty or 
problem in the production of plenty of worms, even into the 
millions, once the simple technique is studied and a start made. 


Earthworm Culture 


INTENSIVE propagation for maximum results in soil-building re- 
quires large numbers of worms, depending on the amount of 
land to be used for garden, orchard, or farm. It should be 
borne in mind and emphasized that intensive use of earthworms 
bears about the same relation to earthworms as found in nature 
as a power installation for production of electricity, such as 
Niagara Falls, Boulder Dam, or Bonneyville Dam, has to the 
unharnessed water power flowing down a native stream. We 
use from one thousand to five thousand times the concentrations 
of breeding earthworms per cubic foot of composted material 
as would be found in the average natural environment with the 
native earthworm population. 

The small city gardener may have only a few square feet 
of earth, or possibly just a few potted plants or a window box. 
Others may have a small kitchen vegetable garden or flower gar- 
den. Still others may have a market garden or nursery, and 
so on up to extensive acreage in orchard, farm, or ranch. Earth- 
worm culture may be engaged in successfully, whether it be for 
producing fine potting material for a few plants, a small garden, 
or for acreage of any extent. A start may be made in a one- 
gallon can or a small box, beginning with a few earthworm eggs 
(called egg-capsules), or a few worms. The technique is prac- 
tically the same, regardless of the size of the setup. 



In a few words, the way to begin earthworm culture is to 
provide a culture medium of earthworm food in some kind of 
container or bed a tin can, a small wooden box, a compost 
heap, or a specially designed culture bed add a few egg-capsules 
or worms, and keep the culture thoroughly moist and shaded. 
Further discussion of earthworm food will come later. We have 
already covered the subject of food for worms in a general man- 
ner. Results obtained will, of course, be commensurate with 
the care and effort expended. Engaging in earthworm culture is 
very much like starting in to raise chickens. One can start with 
a few eggs and increase slowly, or start with a large number of 
eggs and increase rapidly. For a small yard or garden, a small 
setup is all that is required one or two cans or box cultures. 
For a greater amount of land, a proportionately greater setup 
should be made as a beginning. As an example of the rapidity 
of increase which can be made from a small beginning, one 
thousand egg-capsules were incubated and hatched out. From 
this start four lug-box cultures (see illustrations and instructions 
on box culture) of five hundred worms each were set up. Within 
one year from the time this setup was made, a total of 55,000 
egg-capsules had been harvested from these four boxes. The 
increase was used to impregnate extensive soil-building culture 
beds and compost heaps and at the end of the first year vast 
numbers of the soil-builders were at work and multiplying in 
many tons of composted soil-building material. 

Once the initial beginning is made, with a modest cash 
investment of from five dollars on up to about twenty-five dol- 
lars, the main money-cost involved is the small amount of labor 
required in taking care of the cultures. The material which is 
used in providing soil-building food for the worms is the same 
material which should be incorporated into the soil anyway in 
building and maintaining the highest state of fertility. 

Where too small a beginning is made, one is apt to become 
discouraged with the slow progress made in building up an 
adequate number of breeding earthworms to show satisfactory 


results. Therefore we advise the beginner in earthworm culture 
to make a sizeable start. It requires about as much time to look 
after a single culture box or bed as it does to take care of a 
number of Once the setup is made, the main attention 
for sixty to ninety days will be to sprinkle the cultures with 
water about once a week, or often enough to keep them moist 
while the worms are developing. 

In giving instructions for making a beginning and proceed- 
ing with perfect confidence in success, we shall not discuss make- 
shift methods. More labor, the main consideration, is involved 
in following makeshift methods than will be found necessary 
in doing the thing right. Let us, therefore, proceed on the prin- 
ciple that "anything worth doing is worth doing well." We 
wish to emphasize that the methods herein described are not 
arbitrary, except for certain basic principles. In our research 
and experimentation over a period of a good many years, we 
have invented or evolved methods, culture beds, and so on, 
which have proved successful in our own work, as well as in the 
work of many others who have taken up earthworm culture and 
followed the methods we have advised. We further counsel 
every earthworm culturist to experiment constantly and work out 
methods of his own. In this way comes progress. 


Vegetable Lug Boxes 

The simplest and most practical method for beginning earth- 
worm culture is propagation in boxes. Many years' experience 
in the intensive breeding of earthworms for egg-capsules produc- 
tion has demonstrated that a box of the approximate dimensions 
of 14 inches wide, 18 inches long, and 6 inches deep is the most 
favorable size both for convenient and easy handling as well as 
maximum capsule production in order to develop quickly and 


maintain a steady supply of earthworm eggs for production of 
breeding stock and for impregnating extensive culture beds and 
compost heaps, as well as flower pots, beds, lawns, trees, shrubs, 
and soil in general. 

We have found that the standard vegetable lug box, which 
has and overall measurement of 14 inches wide, \7 l / 2 inches long 
and 6 inches deep, answers all purposes for setting up earth- 
worm culture. Such boxes are usually obtainable at the grocery 
or market at the very reasonable cost of from three to ten cents 
each. Lug boxes are light in weight, quite strong and durable, 
and serve the purpose admirably. 

To conserve space, boxes may be stacked in tiers four to 
ten boxes high. Tiers four or five boxes high are most con- 
venient for easy handling. The tiers should be supported above 
floor or ground upon a base about six inches high. Such a base 
support may be made from 2x6" timber, . stood on edge and 
properly spaced apart by cleats firmly nailed across the ends. 
The illustrated plan shows the details of a base support with 
overall dimensions 46 inches long and 17% inches wide, de- 
signed to support three tiers of boxes. Such a base may be 
made any length desired, but we have found in practice that in 
leveling the base it is much easier to adjust a short base in a 
perfectly level position, especially on uneven ground, than it is 
to adjust a long base. Also, in shifting a base from one location 
to another, the short, light base is more convenient to handle. 

The purpose of the base support is to provide ventilation and 
drainage and also to prevent escape of the breeder worms. Breed- 
ing boxes set flat upon the ground or floor provide a cool, damp 
spot underneath the box and the worms may congregate or escape 
under the box and burrow into the ground. Supported on a 
base above floor or ground, the worms will remain in the boxes 
where the food and moisture are. 

By the use of separators between the boxes (see illustra- 
tions), made of 2 x 2" material, \7 l / 2 inches long and spaced 
13*4 inches apart by lath cleats, the watering of cultures is 


facilitated. A hose nozzle or flat sprinkler head can be inserted 
between the boxes without disturbing the tiers and the entire tier 
can thus be watered in one or two minutes. Once the cultures 
are set up, all the attention they require between harvest times 
three or four weeks apart is watering once or twice a week, 
depending on the weather and temperature. In hot, dry weather 
more watering is required than in cool, wet weather. Cultures 
should be kept thoroughly moist at all times for best results. In 
watering, a gentle sprinkler stream should be used so that the 
surface of the culture will not be rudely disturbed by the force 
of a hard stream or spray. We always use a layer of gunny 
sack material on top of the culture material in each box. The 
gunny sack conserves moisture and prevents drying out; and 
also acts as a water spreader, insuring even spread of the water 
and preventing disturbance of the culture material by force of 
the water. 

Gunny Sacks 

We have found that plenty of gunny sacks are almost indis- 
pensable in earthworm culture. Old potato sacks, sugar sacks, 
feed sacks in fact, old tow sacks of any kind provide material 
for a multitude of purposes. We use them for cover material 
to protect the cultures from excessive heat and cold, for shade 
in a form of screens tacked on a lath or other light frame- 
work. Their main use, however, is as cover material on the 
surface of the compost in all boxes and culture beds. Such 
cover material conserves moisture, keeps the surface of the cul- 
ture dark and damp, and favors maximum capsule-production. 
The worms will congregate in great numbers immediately be- 
low the damp layer of burlap and this favors rapid breeding. 
We use a heavy pair of tin snips for cutting the sacks into con- 
venient sizes for regular use. Ordinary scissors may be used, 
but they are not heavy enough for regular use. With tin snips, 
we can cut several layers of sacking at a time, thus speeding up 




















the process. We have also discovered that it is much easier to 
cut wet sacks than dry ones. So we usually soak a number of 
sacks in a tub of water and cut them to the proper dimensions 
for future use, according to the size of the culture beds to be 
covered. In large culture beds, we do not cut the sacks at all. 
For lug-box cultures one sack will provide for four boxes, the 
edges of the squares being folded over at the sides and ends of 

Preparation of Boxes 

Properly prepared culture boxes will last from two to four 
years. Therefore an expenditure of time, plus a few cents cost 
in material, is fully justified. Also we have found that there is 
much greater "living satisfaction" to be derived from things well- 
done over that derived from careless work. Boxes of the proper 
dimensions may be made, the size not being arbitrary so long 
as the depth is kept at about six inches. In intensive propaga- 
tion for capsule production the depth is important. Earthworms 
breed at the surface for the most part ; so in shallow box cul- 
tures they quickly congregate on the surface under the damp 
burlap cover. 

If vegetable lug boxes are used, select good boxes without 
large knot holes. For drainage bore six to eight quarter-inch 
holes, properly spaced over bottom of box. The cracks in bot- 
tom provide additional drainage. Reinforce bottom of box by 
nailing a lath cleat across it at each end, thus preventing the 
thin boards from splitting off around the nail-heads. For each 
box, cut ten pieces of plasterer's lath, thirteen inches long, to 
be placed crosswise in bottom of box. This distributes the 
weight of the wet compost evenly over the bottom of box, provides 
drainage, and prevents sagging of the bottom boards. Also when 
contents of box are dumped, the crosswise lath prevents the wet 
compost from adhering to bottom. The lath may be used over 
and over, the same as the box. For convenient handling, a small 


strip of lath, six inches long, should be tacked on each end of 
box, near upper edge, so that the box can be firmly grasped in 
lifting. In the illustrations, we show a photograph of a lug-box 
setup, with line-drawings to show the details described above. 
We suggest very careful study and attention to details. 

Compost Mixing 

We usually speak of earthworm food as "compost." While 
the compost may be thoroughly mixed in any convenient way, 
on a bare spot of ground, in a box or other container, we have 
found a mixing box, similar to a cement-mixing trough, a very 
convenient and practical thing to have on hand. Such a mix- 
ing box should be about twelve inches deep, three feet wide, 
and five to six feet long, with smooth wood or metal bottom 
and sloping ends. A metal bottom supported by wood, is pre- 
ferred, as this makes a practically waterproof box and there is 
no waste of water while mixing compost. Three cubic feet of 
material can be conveniently mixed in such a box. Any surplus 
material not used can be stored in the box and kept moist for 
future use. The rotting of the material thus stored increases 
its value as earthworm food. The compost can be mixed with 
a rake, hoe, or shovel, in the same manner that cement is mixed. 
It is well to screen the earth first in order to remove small stones 
or hard clods, using a half-inch mesh screen, or even as fine a 
screen as quarter-inch mesh. The sloping ends of the mixing 
box facilitate the mixing and emptying of the box. Compost for 
lug boxes should be very thoroughly broken up by chopping, 
raking, or screening, similar to the preparation of fine potting 
material. The finer the better. It should be borne in mind 
that earthworms have no teeth and that they can swallow par- 
ticles no larger that the mouth opening. 

While the preliminary mixing should be made with prac- 
tically dry material, it can be lightly sprinkled to lay the flying 
dust. As the material becomes well broken up, it should be 


sprinkled more and more, so that when it is ready for use it 
will be a crumbly mass, damp through and through, but not 
muddy or "soggy" wet. Compost should not be "flooded," as 
this tends to "puddle" the fine soil and make a dense mass in- 
stead of a crumbly, loamy compost. A good plan is to mix a 
tray of compost as outlined and then sprinkle it daily for two 
or three days, turning it thoroughly at each sprinkling. In this 
way the material will absorb the water evenly through and 
through. For lug box propagation, too much care cannot be 
exercised in the preparation of material for capsule production. 

Lug Box Compost Material 

For lug-box culture, a fine compost may be prepared of 
one part manure, one part screened topsoil, and one part 
agricultural peat moss. A mixture of manures may be used. 
However, we prefer a mixture of horse and rabbit manure, 
half-and-half, finely broken up, or a mixture made from rabbit 
manure only. In considering the kind of manure to use, the 
available source of manure must be taken into account. For 
large compost beds, where from a cubic yard to several tons 
of material is composted, all kinds of manure and vegetable 
waste, including garbage, can be used to advantage ; but for 
intensive production of capsules in lug boxes, it is highly de- 
sirable to have a very fine compost of crumbly material that is 
not too disagreeable or messy to handle with the bare hands or 
with gloves. In addition to the material as outlined, we usually 
work into the compost a liberal sprnikling of some standard, 
all-purpose chicken mash or corn meal. Corn iheal has been 
found to favor the formation of egg-capsules. If mash is used, 
the proportion should be about one-half to one pound for each 
cubic foot of finished compost. If corn meal is used, about 
one-half pound for each cubic foot of finished compost is suffi- 
cient. The mash or corn meal insures a ration of carbohydrates, 
proteins, and fats for the worms, so that they will be well- 


nourished, regardless of the organic composition of the composted 
soil-building material. Maximum production in box culture is 
dependent on plenty of food. The mash or corn meal should be 
added before the compost has been wet, so that it can be uni- 
formly distributed throughout the mixture. 

Measuring and Quality of Materials 

In preparing compost for box culture, we usually mix about 
three cubic feet of material, which is about all the mixing box 
will accommodate. An apple box is a handy measure, as it 
holds approximately a cubic foot. It is not necessary to bother 
with too fine a measure, as the proportions as outlined are ap- 
proximate only. So we take an apple box, or other measure, of 
manure; one box of good loamy topsoil and one box of agricul- 
tural peat moss, plus three pounds of chicken mash, or one and 
one-half pounds of corn meal. The peat may be soaked ahead 
of time, broken up, and squeezed out. It requires several hours' 
time fully to impregnate peat with water. We usually soak it 
twenty-four hours before mixing the compost and then squeeze 
the surplus water out. Materials should be measured dry, as 
they bulk up after water is added. Peat moss is best for lug- 
box culture, as the idea is to provide a compost that will retain 
a high water content without being soggy or muddy. For large 
compost beds, straw, hay, leaves, or other vegetable matter may 
be substituted for peat. Lug-box culture is used particularly for 
production of large numbers of egg-capsules for impregnation 
of more extensive compost beds and soil areas. Therefore 
greater care may be taken and a small additional expense in- 
curred. Commercially, egg-capsules are valued at one cent each, 
the value being based on labor cost for production and handling. 
We value a lug-box culture of five hundred breeder worms at 
fifteen dollars. However, in production for use in impregnating 
soil, millions of capsules can be propagated at practically no cost 
other than the cost of the cheap and abundant material used 


for earthworm food. The parent materials of topsoil used in 
earthworm culture are the identical materials which should be 
added to the soil anyway to rebuild and maintain fertile and 
productive land. The utilization of earthworms in transform- 
ing the culture material is the most rapid and efficient method 
and also produces better soil than any other method. 

Loading Culture Boxes with Earthworms 

A layer of alfalfa hay about one inch deep should be placed 
in bottom of the culture box ; or two or three thicknesses of old 
potato sack material (or other gunny sacking) can be used in- 
stead of the hay. The hay or burlap improves drainage, pre- 
vents compost from adhering to bottom of box, and is favored 
by the earthworms as food. Then fill box about two-thirds full 
of the prepared compost. Five hundred breeder earthworms 
should be placed on top of the compost. If the worms have 
been received in a shipping container, they will be mixed with 
prepared earthworm food. The entire contents of the container 
can be dumped into the prepared box, raked lightly over the 
surface of the compost, and may be covered with a few addi- 
tional handfuls of compost. While the compost should not be 
packed, it is well to smooth and "firm" the surface before adding 
the worms. A handy tool for this purpose is a plasterer's metal 
trowel, or a cement finisher's wooden float. A triangular block 
of wood will answer the purpose. The worms will quickly work 
down into the compost, making their own burrows. After the 
worms are added, cover the surface with one or two thicknesses 
of burlap, which should be well soaked before using. We have 
already discussed the uses of burlap. We usually cut an old 
gunny sack into four to eight pieces^ approximately the size of 
the top of box. If the sacking is larger than the box, the edges 
may be folded over inside the box. This burlap cover does not 
need to be disturbed until the culture is ready for servicing. 
The cultures are sprinkled from time to time through this cover- 

Above: Earthworm Culture in Lug Boxes. 

Below: A Double-handful of Domesticated Earthworms. 


ing, which acts as a spreader for the water and prevents the 
water from disturbing the surface of the culture. As the burlap 
rots and disintegrates, it becomes food for the worms and a 
fresh cover is added as necessary. Experience has proved that 
such a cover conserves the moisture and prevents the surface 
from drying out, provides a dark surface, and favors capsule 

Impregnating Culture Boxes with Egg-Capsules 

The culture boxes for capsules are prepared the same as 
for breeder worms, as described in the preceding paragraph. 
Spread two or three hundred earthworm egg-capsules over the 
surface of the compost and cover with one inch of additional 
compost. Cover with damp burlap, exactly as outlined for 
breeder worms. Place in a warm place for incubating and hatch- 
ing. A temperature of from fifty to seventy degrees in the shade 
is warm enough. A shed, basement, or other shady place can 
be utilized. At the proper temperature, the eggs will incubate 
and hatch in from fourteen to twenty-one days. The newly 
spawned worms will develop quite rapidly in a warm environ- 
ment and will reach the reproductive stage in from sixty to ninety 
days. The culture should not be disturbed during development, 
except for the necessary watering. Contents of the culture box 
should be kept moist at all times. After sixty days, the culture 
may be examined to determine if capsules are being produced. 
After capsule production is started, the cultures are handled the 
same as the culture boxes of mature worms. A lug box of com- 
post as described above has sufficient food to develop one to two 
thousand worms from capsule to reproductive stage. Thus, a 
thousand or more egg-capsules may be used in a single box, in- 
cubated and hatched out and developed over a period of from 
sixty to ninety days. Then the culture can be divided into two 
or more boxes. Through experience we have found that about 
five hundred mature worms to a lug box give the best results in 


capsule production. If there are too many breeders, they may 
slow down in reproduction. Although earthworms begin to pro- 
duce capsules while they are quite small, the fully mature worms 
will be the best breeders as a rule. Worms live to a great age, 
unless accidentally destroyed, provided they are in a favorable 

Watering Culture Boxes 

If worms are to multiply rapidly, they must have plenty of 
water. The compost should be kept moist through and through, 
but not soggy wet. The boxes should be watered with a sprinkler 
hose, sprinkling can, or hose nozzle once or twice a week, accord- 
ing to what is necessary to keep the cultures moist. Proper state 
of moisture must be determined by inspection until experience 
shows correct routine and time for watering. The point of prime 
importance is never to allow the cultures to "dry out." Pre- 
liminary to harvesting the increase, the culture boxes may be 
allowed to become somewhat dry for a few days, so that the ma- 
terial can be handled without trouble. Wet, muddy compost is 
not so easily handled as is a moist, crumbly material. Many small 
details of production and handling will be taught by experience 
in fact, that is the only way that they can be learned. 

Harvesting the Increase Proper Work Tables 

A table twenty-eight inches high, thirty inches wide, of any 
desired length, is a convenient size for harvesting operations. It 
is well to have a railing on back and ends of table, about three 
inches high, to prevent material from being pushed off the table. 
The table-top should be smooth, preferably covered with metal, 
and without cracks. Dump contents of a culture box on table 
and rake the material into a cone-shaped pile. The material 
which adheres to sides and bottom of box can be carefully 
scraped out with a small trowel, old caseknife, putty knife, or 


spatula. Never use a sharp cutting tool in handling earth- 
worms. While they will stand considerable handling, they should 
not be cut or injured. If there are a number of boxes to be 
serviced, a long table can be used and several boxes dumped at 
one time. During the harvesting, the work table should be in a 
lighted place, either mild sunshine or under electric light. Worms 
are very sensitive to light and will quickly burrow down toward 
the bottom and center of the compost in trying to escape from 
the light. Have the same number of culture boxes prepared as 
have been dumped. The old boxes which have been dumped 
should be prepared again, the same as the original culture boxes. 
The old boxes will have the original labels on them and can be 
used for the breeder worms over and over. 

After waiting a few minutes after dumping, to allow the 
worms to work down away from the surface, start the harvest- 
ing operation by raking the material from the surface of the 
cone-shaped pile. Proceed lightly, with the fingers, so as not to 
injure the worms. An inch or more of material can usually be 
removed at first; the material removed contains the egg-capsules 
and is placed in the new culture box; wait a few minutes, to 
allow the worms to work deeper, then repeat the operation; and 
so on, until two-thirds or more of the old culture material has 
been transferred to the new box. Any worms encountered 
should be transferred back to the old culture box. Experience 
will soon teach how to harvest the increase as rapidly as pos- 
sible. In following this routine, the breeder worms will be found 
in the one-third of the old compost remaining on the table. Most 
of the egg-capsules will have been transferred to the new culture 
boxes. The harvested material will contain the capsules which 
have been produced during the two or three weeks preceding the 
harvest. Also it will contain a good many young worms. We 
sometimes wait a day or more, after dumping the culture boxes 
on the work table, before beginning the harvesting. By waiting 
a considerable length of time, we shall find that most of the 
worms will have worked down to the bottom of the pile, and we 


shall thus be able quickly to transfer the top two-thirds or more 
to the new culture boxes without encountering any worms and 
without further waiting. 

The remainder of the old compost, with the breeder worms, 
should now be returned to the old culture boxes, the boxes rilled 
with the new compost and prepared as at the original start. The 
newly loaded boxes with capsules should be properly marked 
and a new tier of boxes started. These new cultures will re- 
quire from sixty to ninety days before they are ready for har- 
vesting operations. 

With mature, breeding earthworms, harvesting is carried out 
every twenty-one to thirty days. Incubation period of capsules 
is fourteen to twenty-one days, depending on moisture, tempera- 
ture, and other conditions. Therefore, if harvesting is carried 
out every twenty-one to thirty days, practically all the increase 
in capsules will be transferred to new culture boxes, to build up 
additional breeding stock. 

Marking Boxes 

Any system of marking can be followed by the individual 
as may suit his own inclination. We usually number and date 
the boxes, maintaining two series of numbers. One series of 
numbers is for mature breeder-earthworms. The other series 
is for the cultures which are developing from egg-capsules. As 
the new cultures reach the reproductive age, they are trans- 
ferred to the breeder series. In setting up new breeder boxes, 
it is well to actually count the worms, allowing five hundred to 
six hundred per box. It is impossible to recover all the egg- 
capsules at harvest time and this residue of capsules will hatch 
out and develop with the mature breeders. In time, the culture 
boxes will become overpopulated. For this reason, the breeder 
boxes should be worked over from time to time, and the number 
of worms reduced to from five hundred to six hundred per box. 
As previously stated, if a culture box becomes too crowded, the 


worms will quit producing capsules. They tend to limit their 
population to correspond to the available food present. We have 
found that we can secure the maximum number of capsules from 
boxes of between five hundred and six hundred worms each. On 
the other hand, while the capsules are hatching out and develop- 
ing, it is all right to have from one thousand to two thousand 
worms to the box. As they reach the reproductive stage, they 
can be separated and breeding cultures of the correct number 
set up. In marking boxes, we have found it convenient to tack 
a small square of white cardboard to the end of the box, leaving 
the head of the carpet tack not quite down. Numbers can be 
typed on card before attaching to box, or can be marked with 
lead pencil or waterproof pencil after they are tacked in. New 
cards can be provided as the old cards become ragged. By leav- 
ing the head of the carpet tack slightly protruding, we can 
readily pry it out for attaching new cards from time to time. 

Building Large Compost Beds 

Once an adequate number of lug-box cultures of mature 
breeders have been established, all harvested material can be used 
for impregnating large compost beds for soil-building and for 
rapid propagation of vast numbers of earthworms. Or the in- 
crease can be used directly for impregnating potted plants, flower 
beds, lawns, gardens, shrubs, trees, or orchards. For instance, 
in orcharding, a setup of a hundred lug boxes of five hundred 
breeders each, properly handled, would produce enough increase 
to impregnate from one hundred to three hundred trees per 
month. In impregnating orchards, or other trees or shrubs, the 
harvested, capsule-bearing material is buried around the trees, 
well back from the bole, with a cover of prepared compost as a 
mulch, to conserve moisture and furnish an abundance of avail- 
able food for the developing worms. Once earthworms are 
established in the soil, they will take care of themselves. Where- 
ever there is sufficient moisture to maintain good vegetation, th** 
earthworms can survive. 


Rapidity of Increase 

Under favorable conditions, which means abundant food 
and moisture, with temperatures ranging from fifty to seventy 
or eighty degrees in the shade, earthworms increase with almost 
incredible rapidity. Mature worms will produce an egg-capsule 
every seven to ten days. The capsules will incubate and hatch 
in fourteen to twenty-one days, each egg-capsule producing from 
one to as high as twenty tiny worms. The newly hatched worms 
develop rapidly and in sixty to ninety days will begin to pro- 
duce capsules. We give here a brief summary of two reports, 
received by the author, which will indicate what can be accom- 
plished from a small beginning. In our own experiments we 
have verified these results many times. 

Report No. 1 : From Son Bernardino, California. An earth- 
worm culturist wrote that he started a lug-box culture on July 

23, 1939, with one hundred earthworm egg-capsules. The per- 
tinent part of this man's letter follows : "On September 24, just 
two months after I first 'planted' the capsules, I dumped the 
contents of the lug on the sorting table. After carefully sorting 
over approximately two-thirds of the lug's contents, I had har- 
vested eight hundred egg-capsules and approximately three 
hundred earthworms. I obtained another lug box, prepared new 
compost of the same composition as previously described, and 
divided my crop into the two lugs. The approximate one-third 
balance of the unsorted original compost was buried under some 
ferns in front of my house. Judging from the number of egg- 
capsules I recovered, eight hundred by actual count, from ap- 
proximately two-thirds of the original compost, I believe it is 
conservative to estimate that there were at least one thousand 
egg-capsules in the entire contents of the original lug. It is 
my plan to take another census of these two lugs on November 

24, .and following that count I will inform you of my find- 
ings . . . ROY S. M." 


Report No. 2: From Kansas City, Missouri. From a long 
letter, giving many details of his work in earthworm culture, 
this Missouri man concludes with this summary: "I closed my 
year October 1. From June 4, 1943, starting with 1000 capsules, 
till September 30, 1944, I have produced 55,000 capsules . . . 
H. A. H." This man has used his increase in establishing ex- 
tensive soil-building compost beds and states that he now has 
vast quantities of the soil-builders at work in these beds, mul- 
tiplying into almost astronomical numbers, while at the same 
time breaking down the material into highly fertile top-dressing 
for his garden acreage. 

We have on file many reports similar to the above, fully 
verifying our own findings over a period of several years' ex- 
perimental research in practical earthworm culture and soil- 

Shade, Temperature, Darkness, Moisture 

For intensive capsule production in box cultures, tempera- 
tures ranging from sixty to eighty degrees will be found most 
favorable. Drying out quickly affects worms and will inhibit 
or stop reproduction. Boxes should be kept fairly dark, as 
earthworms work in darkness. We usually provide covers for 
the tiers of boxes, made of old gunny sacks, or other cheap ma- 
terial. Worms prefer to work near the surface Therefore we 
keep the surface of the culture covered with damp burlap as 
previously outlined, to conserve moisture and provide darkness 
on surface of compost. Worms were originally water animals. 
For intensive production, they still require plenty of water. Cul- 
tures should always be moist through and through, though not 
soggy wet. This point cannot be too strongly emphasized. Boxes 
should not be flooded. Good drainage should be maintained in 
bottom of box, so that surplus water will quickly drain out. If 
cultures are maintained in outdoor shade, the tiers should be 
protected from flooding rains. Sheds, outhouses, basements, 




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t-2 x 6 

1x6 CLEAT 

2x6 1x6 CLEAT-/ 


2 x 6 









lathhouses, tree shade or other shade will prove satisfactory for 
earthworm culture setups. 

Stacking Box Cultures 

Culture boxes should not be placed flat on the ground or 
other surface, for in such cases the worms will gradually work 
out into the ground or gather under the damp bottom. There- 
fore, as previously outlined, a support for the tiers of boxes 
should be made of 2 x 6" (two pieces) material, stood on edge 
13^4 inches apart, with cleats across ends to hold them firmly. 
Any length base support can be provided, according to the num- 
ber of tiers that are to be placed on the base. We favor a base 
support to accommodate three tiers, as this size support is easily 
handled. The tiers are thus supported six inches above the 
ground. (For details of construction, see illustrations and line 

Setup of Earthworm Breeding Boxes 

We have given detailed drawings for box culture, with 
descriptive instructions elsewhere. The illustration opposite 
page 122 shows an actual photograph of two tiers of lug boxes 
resting on base. Points to note particularly are : separators be- 
tween boxes, to allow insertion of hose sprinkler head for water- 
ing ; burlap sacks resting between boxes on top of separators, for 
shade and conservation of moisture ; structure of separator ; small 
lath hand-hold on ends of boxes; lath strips for placing cross- 
wise in bottom of boxes ; structure of base support for the tiers. 
A convenient size base will support three tiers. Tiers may be 
any height, four to six boxes being best for handling. While 
the illustration shows tiers without cover, in actual use we cover 
the slacks with burlap sacks to keep cultures dark and to con- 
serve moisture. 

In a setup of this kind we use approximately 500 breeders 
to the box. We Often harvest upwards of 2,000 egg-capsules per 


month from each box. We use the increase for impregnating 
large compost breeding beds, flower beds, lawns, or other land. 
From this it will be seen that a setup of from five to ten cul- 
ture boxes will quickly develop vast numbers of worms. 


Soil-Building Culture Beds 

In our methods for developing earthworm culture, we use 
lug-box setup for rapid production of earthworm eggs, harvest 
the eggs from the boxes once every thirty days, and use the in- 
crease to impregnate large compost beds for soil-building and 
for development of vast numbers of earthworms. In harvesting 
the increase from the culture boxes, it is not necessary to com- 
plete the work on a particular date. The incubation period of 
the egg-capsules is from fourteen to twenty-one days; there- 
fore, if the harvesting operations are carried out every twenty-one 
to thirty days, practically all the increase is recovered. 

We present two designs for large compost culture beds 
the first design illustrated in the four detailed drawings on the 
next page and the more complicated design illustrated by pic- 
tures and detailed construction plans of the "Earthmaster" culture 
bed which is shown in following pages. The plan with posts 
set in the ground is the simplest and most practical for the 
average earthworm farmer. 

Variation m Size 

In the knockdown construction, the size of the bed may be 
varied larger or smaller as desired by the particular individual, 
to suit the available space and the extent of the land to be 
eventually impregnated. The important . point to note is the 
way the 2 x 4" posts are spaced to make the interlocking corners. 
As will be seen from the pictures, the bed is constructed of 


2 x 4" posts and 1 x 6" planking. No nails are used. The side 
members of the bed, beginning at bottom, are set in place one 
at a time, followed by the end member, which interlocks between 
to hold the side member in place. Pressure of the compost ma- 
teria! keeps all members in place. The compost is built up layer 
by layer. 

Bottom aiid Drainage 

In composting with earthworms, good drainage is of prime 
importance. To accomplish this, we place on the ground as 
bottom of the bed a layer of four to six inches of coarse sand 
or gravel, evenly spread, and on top of this we place a layer of 
1 x 6" boards, spaced apart about one-half to one inch. This 
makes the bed mole and gopher proof. Also one main purpose 
of the bottom boards is to allow unloading of the finished com- 
post with a shovel, without digging into the sand layer which 
is placed there for permanent drainage. In unloading the broken- 
down compost, the end members of this culture bed may be pried 
out one at a time, thus exposing one open end of the bed and 
allowing the shoveling of the contents of bed into wheelbarrow 
or other carrying device for distribution to flower beds, lawn, 
or other place of final disposition. 

Depth of Bed 

While the width and length of the bed may be varied, larger 
or smaller, as desired, the depth should be maintained at about 
twenty-four inches. Earthworms are air-breathing animals 
and must have plenty of air for best results. A depth of about 
two feet allows for good aeration at all times. Also in watering 
a culture bed of this depth it is not difficult to keep the entire 
contents of the bed thoroughly moist from top to bottom. This 
is very important in securing best results in earthworm culture. 
Originally earthworms were water animals and their bodies have 


a very high water content. Any lack of water slows down their 
activity and reduces productivity of capsules. Beds should not 
be flooded, but contents should be kept thoroughly moist though 
not "soggy" wet. Experience will soon teach how to maintain 
the best degree of moisture. 

Cover and Shade 

In the detailed construction plan we have not shown any 
cover. A suitable cover, in easily removable sections, should be 
provided to protect contents of bed from flooding rains and to 
provide shade and darkness. Worms work best in shade and 
darkness. Rain water is very fine for the worms, so long as 
contents of bed are not flooded. If a good shade tree is con- 
veniently located the bed can be placed, preferably, on north 
side of tree. This keeps the culture bed as cool as possible during 
the hot summer months. Worms should not be exposed to hot 
sunshine directly. However, they are the most active when kept 
at summer temperatures of from sixty to eighty degrees. In 
warm earth the greatest production of capsules will be had. 

Moisture Conservation 

For moisture conservation and to prevent surface drying 
out, we always use on top of the compost surface a layer of old 
tow sacks or burlap. Old feed bags, potato sacks, or other 
porous material can be used. The bed can be watered through 
this cover material without disturbing the surface of the compost. 
The cover material acts as a water-break and spreader, so that, 
in watering with a hose or sprinkler head, the worms and sur- 
face of compost are not disturbed by force of the water stream. 
It is always best to use a sprinkler head on the garden hose, as 
this distributes the water to better advantage, without flooding. 

Garbage Disposal and Waste Utilization 

All kitchen waste (garbage) is perfect earthworm food and 
may be disposed of as it accumulates, spreading it on the compost 


layer by layer. We always spread the garbage evenly over sur- 
face of bed and then add a thin layer of sifted topsoil on top of 
garbage to absorb odors and furnish a base of soil for combining 
with the vegetable and other matter. The worms consume and 
combine everything, the final product being rich, black topsoil 
for potting or other use. Lawn clippings, leaves, small prun- 
ings, all trimmings from the vegetable gardens, such as cabbage 
leaves, lettuce, or other organic material, can be used in the 
compost, adding it layer by layer and mixing enough topsoil 
or subsoil to prevent heating. In composting with earthworms, 
it is highly important to mix the compost with enough earth so 
that a high degree of heat will not be developed. This is also 
one of the main reasons for keeping the culture bed shallow in 
depth. Deep piles of compost should be avoided, as they may 
develop intense heat in the deeper layers, enough to destroy 
animal life, a fact that should always be borne in mind. A 
liberal amount of manure mixed into compost is a very great 

Intensive Production of Earthworms 

Where a rich compost is provided, a culture bed eight feet 
long, four feet wide and two feet deep will easily support a 
population of fifty thousand domesticated earthworms. Once 
such a culture bed is fully impregnated and developed from 
a lug-box setup, it is no problem further to develop earthworm 
culture. In starting additional culture beds, or establishing large 
compost beds in the open, we simply take a liberal portion of 
compost from the old culture bed a wheelbarrow load or more 
with such worms and capsules as it may contain and use this 
as a starter for the new composting operation. This start will 
quickly impregnate the new compost, and by the time the bed 
is full there will be an adequate worm population to break it down 
quickly into fertile topsoil. 

We wish to emphasize at this point that we are laying down 
certain general principles for earthworm culture. We offer 


definite plans for culture boxes, culture beds, and so on. How- 
ever, each earthworm culturist should experiment and develop 
plans of his own. Any kind of box, container, or culture bed 
will serve, provided that it has good drainage and is kept shaded 
and moist. The plans we have set forth have been found, 
through long experience, to be good. By following a successful 
plan that has already been tested, the beginner will avoid many 
mistakes. On the other hand, if no experimenting is carried out, 
new and better methods will not be discovered. 

Detailed Plan of Earthworm Culture Bed 

8' - 

- o 

-2 x 

1x6 BOARDS -rv 



("Knock Down" Construction) 

Boards are laid on top of sand and gravel fill. Makes bed mole- 
and gopher-proof. Provides easy shoveling surface for emptying 
bed, without disturbing sand till. Improves drainage and aera- 


This bed is a most practical, all-purpose culture bed. While 
the depth should be kerjt at two feet, the length and breadth may 
bFyaned to suit individual needs. We use lugbox culture for 
rapid production of earthworm egg-capsules. We take the in- 
crease and impregnate larger culture beds, such as illustrated, for 
soil-building and for development of vast numbers of earthworms. 
This construction provides an excellent unit for household garbage 
disposal and for general composting of all kinds of organic 
waste manures, grass clippings, leaves, etc. 








M * 

o . 

^ o 




Partial End View and Cross Section 



Corner and end posts are set in ground so as to provide inter- 
locking corners. No nails are used. For easy emptying, end 
members may be pried out one at a time, leaving one end open 
for shoveling. 

Perspective View 


2X4" Rrtvood posts, 
et 18 inohe* dp 
in ground* 


The sand fill in bottom with space between side and end members 
provides plenty of air, with good drainage, for the air-breathing 


Earthmaster Earthwonn Culture Bed 
For Intensive Propagation of Domesticated Earthworms 

(Name, working plans, photographs and descriptive 
matter fully protected. All rights reserved. In- 
vented and designed by Thomas J. Barrett, Roscoe, 
California, as a part of the Earthmaster System. 
Users may construct their own beds.) 

THE Earthmaster Culture Bed is presented as a complete basic 
unit for conveniently developing and handling approximately 
10,000 mature domesticated earthworms. In addition to its prac- 
tical efficiency may be mentioned simplicity of construction, low 
material cost, strength, durability, and accessibility. With the 
superstructure and cover (see photos No. 10-11-12), it may be 
used without any other housing. However, where the bed can 
be shaded under a shed, lath house, tree, or other shelter, the 
superstructure may be left off (see photos No. 2 3). 

The V-shaped construction of the compost compartment 
(see photos No. 8 9) embraces the basic principle of the Earth- 
master Culture Bed. It allows perfect aeration and drainage, 
both very necessary in the successful propagation of the air- 
breathing domesticated earthworms. On account of the V-shape, 
when the bed is watered the water flows downward along the side 
members, gradually becoming concentrated in the narrow por- 
tion at the bottom. Then, through capillary attraction, the 
moisture rises through the center toward the top. Thus the en- 
tire mass of compost is kept uniformly moist throughout. 



Years of experience have abundantly demonstrated that it 
is much better to maintain a battery of medium sized units 
which can be completely serviced in rotation, day by day, rather 
than large culture units which may have to be left partly serv- 
iced, after a day's work. For this reason, the standard unit 
described in this paper has been adopted and advocated in the 
Earthmaster System. The complete unit, including cover and 
superstructure, stands 36 inches high and 36 inches square. 

The primary purpose of maintaining a culture bed is to pro- 
vide an easy and convenient method for harvesting earthworm 
egg-capsules, for impregnation of additional culture beds for 
breeding purposes, or for impregnation of compost heaps, flower 
pots, lawns, gardens, orchards, or farms. Also, in intensive 
production of domesticated earthworms, it is well to protect the 
breeders from mixing with native earthworms. With Earth- 
master Culture Beds, the pure cultures of domesticated earth- 
worms may be maintained intact from mixing. 



Oregon pine, hemlock, or other available lumber. 

Corner Posts: 

4 pieces 2 x 4", 36" long. Variation: If superstructure is 
not desired (see photo No. 3), make posts 30" long. 


10 pieces 1 x 6", 36" long. 2 pieces 1 x 4", 36" long. 

Bottom of Compost Compartment: 

2 pieces 1 x 6", 33J4" long, 2 pieces of lath, 33j^" long. 

Removable Sides of Compost Compartment: 

10 pieces 1 x 6", 20" long. 2 pieces 1 x 4", 20" long. Each 
side requires 5 pieces 1x6" plus 1 piece 1 x 4". 


End Panels: 

10 pieces 1 x 6", 24" long. Note: 5 pieces used in each 
end, spaced J4" apart, with 1 inch space between the comer 
posts and end members of panel. 

Sub-Surface Divider: 

11 pieces lath (ordinary plasterer's lath), 33" long, with two 
end lath 30" long. Space between lath about width of lath. (See 
photos No. 7 and No. 9). 

Primary Cover (Photo No. 10): 

A light frame, 32J4" long by 32" wide, made of lath and 
1 x 2" material and covered with a piece of gunny sack (tow 
sack, sugar sack, burlap or other porous material). Note: When 
cover is in place, contents of bed may be watered through the 
cover with hose sprinkler or sprinkler can. Cover acts as a water 

Supercover (Photos No. 10-11-12): 

A light frame 36 x 36" square, made of 1 x 2" or other light 
material, covered with gunny sack. In addition, four side walls 
are made by tacking an opened gunny sack (see photo No. 12) 
to each of the four sides of frame, leaving one edge to hang 
free. Thus, when not in use, the side curtains may be folded 
back on top of frame as in photo No. 1. Or for protection 
against excessive summer heat, or for protection against cold, 
the walls may be dropped down as in photo No. 12. For pro- 
tection against flooding rains, an extra cover should be provided, 
made of a frame covered with roofing paper. All covers should 
be of light construction, so that they may be readily lifted off 
when the bed is serviced, or for other attention. 

Special Emphasis 

Study all photographs carefully for correct assembly and 
nailing. It properly assembled and nailed together, the bed will 
not become "wobbly" or pull apart 



Photo No. 1 

Work bench, with materials cut to dimensions. 

Photo No. 2. (View without superstructure.) 

End panels. Left shows inside of panel, base-sill flush with 
bottom of corner posts. Right shows outside of panel, top rail 
30" above ground, bottom rail 6" above ground. Material for 
each panel : 2 corner posts, 2x4", 30" long, 3-1 x 6", 36" long; 
5-1 x 6", 24" long. (Note: Photos No. 2 and No. 3 show view 
without superstructure. If superstructure is desired, corner 
posts will be 36" long, as in photo No. 4.) 

Photo No. 3. (View without superstructure.) 

Frame assembled with bottom boards leaning against the 
corner. Note lath strips tacked on each edge of bottom boards, 
2" from edge. Removable side- wall members abut against the 
lath strips on bottom (see photo No. 8). Note position of frame 
rails side top- rails inside; end top- rails outside. Note that po- 
sition of base-sills is reversed side-sill outside; end sill inside. 
Note that top side-rail is composed of 1 x 6" above, 1 x 4" below 

Photo No. 4. (View with superstructure.) 

Frame showing corner posts projecting 6" above top rails. 
Note that bottom boards are centered, with ends supported on 
the end base-sills. Note that side-rails are nailed to flat of cor- 
ner posts ; end- rails nailed to edge of corner posts. 

Photo No. 5. 

Compost compartment partially assembled, with three of the 
removable sidewall members leaning against frame. Note space 
of J4" between members. Uniform spacing between members 
is maintained by driving a roofing nail into edge of each mem- 
ber, leaving head of nail projecting %". This spacing is for 


aeration and to allow for swelling of the wet wood. A one- 
inch space is allowed between the upright members of the end 
panels and the corner posts to allow for nailing of top side- 
rails on inside of posts (see photos No. 8-9 for this detail). 

Photo No. 6 

Side view, showing compost compartment completely as- 
sembled. See photos No. 8-9 for details of inside. 

Photo No. 7 

View showing sub-surface divider, 33" x 30". Space be- 
tween lath is about the width of a lath. When divider is in 
place (see photo No. 9), the compost compartment is divided 
into large lower chamber for permanent earthworm burrows, 
with a shallow upper space, six inches deep, which forms the 
feeding ground and egg-capsule "nest." 

Photo No. 8 

View looking down into compost compartment. Note the J4" 
spacing between all members. Note removable side members, 
with lower ends resting against the lath strips on bottom, the 
top ends resting against side-rails six inches below top edge. 
When the compost compartment is filled, pressure of the ma- 
terial holds side-walls firmly in place. By inserting a "pry" on 
outside of the compost compartment, between the side- wall and 
top rail, it is a simple matter to pry a member up and release 
the bottom end, removing the members one at a time. Thus two 
or three, or all, of the side-wall members may be removed, allow- 
ing the material in the compost compartment to be conveniently 
removed from below. The permanent breeding compost is 
changed two or three times a year and replaced by fresh ma- 
terial. The "egg-nest" material above the sub-surface divider 
(see photo No. 9) is worked over frequently in harvesting cap- 
sules and castings. 

Photo No. 9 

View showing sub-surface divider in place, six inches below 


top, resting on upper ends of side-wall members. The chamber 
below the divider is filled with earthworm culture compost and 
forms the permanent burrowing ground for approximately 
10,000 mature breeding worms. Material of lower chamber is 
changed two or three times a year. The space above the divider, 
six inches deep, is filled with well-prepared culture compost and 
forms the feeding, breeding and egg-capsule nest. The material 
in the egg nest is worked over every two or three weeks, the 
eggs harvested, castings sifted out and new material added. As 
earthworm eggs hatch in from fourteen to twenty-one days from 
the time they are produced, all increase is recovered by working 
the egg nest every two or three weeks. Capsules are used for 
establishing additional breeding beds, or for impregnating com- 
post heaps, or for impregnating the soil in garden, flower pots, 
nursery, orchard, farm, etc. 

Photo No. 10 

View showing primary cover in place, with supercover along- 
side. Note that primary cover is used directly above compost 
compartment, resting on edges of top rails. This cover is made 
by tacking tow sack over a light frame. Contents of bed may 
be watered through this cover, using sprinkler hose or can. 
Cover acts as a water break and spreads water uniformly over 
surface of bed. 

Photo No. 11 

View showing supercover in place, with side-walls folded on 
top. This cover is made by tacking an opened tow sack on a 
light frame, 36" x 36" square. Side-walls are made by tacking 
the edge of an opened tow sack on each of the four sides of the 
frame, leaving one edge of sack free to hang down as a side- 
wall, as shown in photo No. 12. Purpose of the supercover is 
for extra shade and protection during summer season, and as 
protection against cold. Contents of bed may be watered 
through the top of supercover, same as through the primary 
cover. A light rain cover should be made of roofing paper or 









other material, to protect contents of bed against flooding rains. 
The supercover should be made light so that it can be readily 
lifted off for servicing of bed. 

Photo No. 12 

View showing supercover, with side-walls lowered. Worms 
work best and multiply rapidly when kept moderately warm. 
An even temperature approaching summer heat is best. In extra 
hot weather, the supercover as illustrated acts as a "desert cooler," 
when sprayed with water occasionally. In the advancing coolness 
of fall weather, the cover acts as a wind-break and protects the 
bed from excessive chill. As pointed out above, where other 
shade is available, such as a shed, lath house, garage, barn, base- 
ment or even the north side of a tree the superstructure may 
be dispensed with. However, if the culture bed is maintained 
in the open, a rain-cover should always be provided to protect 
the bed from flooding. It should always be borne in mind that 
earthworms work best in the dark and that plenty of shade is 
essential to best results in intensive propagation. 


In the intensive propagation and use of domesticated earth- 
worms, it is essential that egg-capsule production be maintained 
under perfect control, so that an adequate score of capsules be 
available at all times. Therefore, at least one unit of breeders 
should be maintained under perfect control, depending on how 
much land is to be impregnated. If large acreage is to be im- 
pregnated, then a battery of units will be required. Another im- 
portant consideration is that of keeping the breeding strain of 
domesticated earthworms free from mixing with native earth- 
worms. Domesticated earthworms have been produced through 
selective feeding and breeding of native earthworms for cer- 
tain favorable characteristics for intensive propagation. In 


the Earthmaster Culture Bed, the breeders are protected from 
mixing. With one or more Earthmaster "egg-nests" for cap- 
sule production, large compost piles may be impregnated and 
culture material from such piles be used for establishing nu- 
merous earthworm colonies in lawn, garden, orchard or fields. 
For building up a battery of Earthmaster Culture Beds, the en- 
tire increase from the original unit may be used and within a 
few months the breeding units may be increased to a point where 
it is possible to impregnate acreage. For small setups, such as 
potted plants, or small yard or garden, a single breeding unit is 
all that is required. 


The Earthmaster Culture Bed is designed to house approxi- 
mately 10,000 mature breeding earthworms, for maximum pro- 
duction of egg-capsules and for convenient harvesting. In use, 
the compost compartment (see photo No. 8) is filled with cul- 
ture compost to the top of the side-wall members, which will be 
within six inches of the top of bed. 

Mixing of Compost 

The mixing of compost exactly right will come with ex- 
perience. The approximate composition of good earthworm cul- 
Jure compost is^ne-third animal manure/ (horse, chicken, ^owt 
_rabbit, sheep, or other domestic animal or fowl) ; [one-third. 
vegetable matterj( grass clippings, leaves, kitchen refuse, such as 
vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, cooked or raw 
leftovers, etc. in short, garbage) ; one- third good topsoil,, well 
sifted. All green stuff is especially desirable for capsule pro- 
duction, such as cabbage, lettuce, beet greens, carrot greens, etc. 
If the manure is fresh, so much the better, but more topsoil 
should be used in this case to prevent heating. Soil is added to 
absorb odors, prevent heating and to add "body" to the earth- 


worm castings. The material may be thoroughly mixed with a 
shovel or fork. 

Screening Materials 

The more finely broken up the material, the better. A feed 
grinder may -be utilized for cutting up vegetable matter. The 
topsoil should be screened through a half-inch mesh, or finer, to 
remove small stones, hard clods, etc. However, good results 
may be obtained by mixing the materials coarse and allowing the 
earthworms to break it up. Production of potting material is 
greatly accelerated by breaking up the material in advance for 
quick consumption by earthworms. If one has the time, it pays 
to prepare the compost in a finely divided state. 

Wetting Down the Compost 

After filling the compost compartment, material should be 
thoroughly wet down and allowed to settle. Keep adding ma- 
terial and wetting it down until the compartment is Jilled to 
within six inches of the top with well-settled compost; then put 
the sub-surface divider in place as shown in picture No. 9. 
Thus you will have a space above the divider about six inches 
deep, with the large mass of compost below the divider to form 
the permanent burrowing ground of the breeders. 

Purpose of the Sub-Surface Divider 

The sub-surface divider is used so that, in the process of 
frequent egg-harvesting from the material on top of the divider, 
the permanent burrowing ground of the earthworms will not be 
disturbed or broken up. 

Impregnating the Earthmaster Culture Bed 

After the sub-surface divider is in place (photo No. 9), the 
space above it is filled with especially well-prepared culture com- 
post of the same materials as that in the lower chamber, and 
thoroughly wet down and allowed to drain and settle. After 
settling, the material should be at level from one to two inches 
below the edge of top rails. The entire bed should now be moist 


throughout, but not soggy wet. In the first wetting down, water 
is used freely and allowed to drain off. Subsequent waterings 
are not so generous just well sprinkled to keep contents moist, 
but not "soggy" wet. The prepared bed, is now impregnated 
with 3,000 Domesticated Earthworm Egg-Capsules, by burying 
them in the surface of the compost one to two inches deep. Dis- 
tribute the capsules over the entire surface, using capsules and 
material in which they are packed. Do not try to separate cap- 
sules from packing material just dump entire contents on sur- 
face of the compost, lightly rake it over the surface of bed and 
then cover with a layer of fine compost to a depth of one to two 
inches. For conserving the moisture and keeping the surface 
of the compost from drying out too much, a layer of wet tow 
sack should be placed on the surface. This should not be re- 
moved during the development period of sixty to ninety days. 
The water will soak right through it. The primary and super- 
cover (photos No. 10, No. 11, and No. 12) are now put in place. 

Care of the Bed 

Contents of bed should not be disturbed for from sixty to 
ninety days from date of planting capsules, except for water- 
ing as often as is necessary to keep it moist, or for occasional 
inspection to determine the condition of moisture. In cool 
weather, one good watering each week is sufficient. In hot sum- 
mer weather, a light sprinkling every day or two may be neces- 
sary to keep the surface from drying out, with a good watering 
once a week. Experience will show how often to water to keep 
contents damp. The bed should never be allowed to dry out. 

Hatching of Capsules 

Earthmaster Domesticated Earthworm Egg-Capsules will 
hatch out in from fourteen to twenty-one days. From one to as 
high as twenty worms per egg may develop. They will probably 
average three or four worms per capsule. It is estimated that 
from 9,000 to 12,000 worms will develop from 3,000 capsules. 
Earthworms mature and begin to breed in from sixty to ninety 


days, according to moisture and temperature; thus production 
is quickly established. Under favorable conditions, domesticated 
earthworms may pass an egg-capsule every seven to ten days, so 
that the increase is extremely rapid. After sixty days from im- 
pregnation, the surface compost should be examined to a depth 
of three or four inches for capsules. If capsules are found, the 
routine of harvesting may be started. 


Egg-Capsules and Castings 

As earthworm egg-capsules hatch in fourteen to twenty-one 
days from the time they are deposited, it is evident that if the 
material in the egg-nest is removed or worked over every two 
to three weeks, the capsules which have been deposited during 
this period will be recovered. Earthworms come to the surface 
to deposit their eggs and castings. They feed mainly near the 
surface, especially at night, or if the bed is kept shaded and 
dark. For this reason, the surface should be kept moist and 
well-covered. A damp tow sack_on the surface forms a good 
cover for darkness and dampness. When disturbed by light and 
vibration, or if too hot, the worms will withdraw into their per- 
manent burrows deeper in the culture bed. 

Removing Contents of Egg-nest 

Before removing the material from the nest, it should be 
raked into a cone-shaped pile in the center of the bed (covers 
laid aside) and allowed partly to dry out. When disturbed or 
exposed to light, the worms will rapidly work downward to 
escape from the light and drying. In a few minutes after ex- 
posure, an inch or more of the surface may be removed for 
screening. Two small hand-screen boxes should be provided, 
one with half -inch screen to remove the coarser material which 
is to be mixed with new compost. The finer material, contain- 
ing the eggs, will pass through the coarse screen. Next, the ma- 


terial from the first screening is passed through a quarter-inch 
screen. The earthworm castings with the egg-capsules will now 
be found in the very fine screenings. The coarser material that 
does not pass through the quarter-inch screen is remixed with 
new compost. The harvest thus proceeds, the material being re- 
moved layer by layer, down to the sub-surface divider. The 
mature breeder-worms will continue to work downward and take 
refuge in their permanent burrows below the sub-surface divider. 

Reloading the Egg-nest 

Fresh, fine compost, the same as the original material, is 
now mixed with the screenings from the harvest, and the egg- 
nest is filled, wet down, and covered, just as the original bed 
was prepared. The routine of harvesting is carried out every 
two or three weeks. With simple care as outlined, by using the 
increase to build additional culture beds, a battery of producing 
units can very quickly be built up and thus a controlled produc- 
tion setup for impregnating extensive ground, or for commercial 
use, will be established. 

Use of Egg-Capsules and Earthworm Castings 

The material harvested from the Earthmaster Culture Bed 
is composed of earthworm castings, fine particles of compost, and 
also contains the egg-capsules. It is not necessary to pick out 
the capsules in order to use them. That is only necessary where 
they are to be counted and sold. The harvested material is used 
for potting plants, in flower beds, around trees, in the yard or 
garden. Wherever a handful of this material is used, a nu- 
merous earthworm colony is established, gradually to increase 
and impregnate the earth in an ever-widening circle from the 
original point of impregnation. Thus, by seeding the flower pots, 
flower beds, the earth around shrubs and trees, yard and gar- 
den, an adequate earthworm population is rapidly built up to 
enrich and condition the earth for all time to come. 


Composting for Increase 

The Earthmaster Breeding Units are maintained as a con- 
trolled supply of capsules from the pure strain of domesticated 
earthworms. But this does not mean that the culture beds are 
the only source for impregnating the earth. For extensive im- 
pregnation of grounds, all household garbage, lawn clippings, 
leaves, prunings, etc., should be carefully composted at some well- 
shaded location and thoroughly impregnated with earthworm 
egg-capsules. A numerous earthworm population will rapidly 
develop in the compost, digesting the material quickly and turn- 
ing it into the most choice topsoil for potting and other uses. 
This composted material can be used liberally, wherever needed, 
and earthworm colonies will be established wherever it is used. 
By reserving part of the compost for new beds, reseeding of the 
compost is not necessary. Soon a very great supply of earth- 
worms will be developed in the composting operations. All gar- 
den books give instructions on building compost, which is a very 
simple matter. 

For extensive acreage, many tons of compost should be 
built up and maintained as culture beds for earthworms, using 
the material after it has been transformed by the earthworms, 
with all that it contains of worms, capsules, and castings, for 
impregnating the earth wherever it is desired to establish an 
adequate earthworm population. 


All earthworms are valuable as soil-builders, as they func- 
tion in the same manner. There are hundreds of varieties of 
native earthworms, with varying characteristics and habits. Some 
are very prolific. Some multiply slowly. Some varities feed 
on a very limited range of material. Others consume practically 
everything in the nature of animal and vegetable waste. Some 
are adjusted to a very limited range of soil acidity. Others adapt 


themselves to a wide range of soils. Through selective breeding 
and feeding, domesticated earthworms, adapted to intensive 
propagation and use, have been developed. They are very pro- 
lific, adapt themselves to a wide range of soil acidity, thrive on 
practically all the biological endproducts of life, both animal waste 
as well as all vegetable matter, and are much less migratory than 
most native earthworms. When a colony is established, they re- 
main and spread* slowly to the surrounding environment. 

In intensive earthworm culture, we create a favorable en- 
vironment and use domesticated earthworms which have the 
necessary characteristics for propagation in high concentrations. 
An ordinary lug box, six inches deep and about eighteen inches 
square, will accommodate 500 to 600 breeders. Under favor- 
able breeding conditions, it is estimated that one worm may 
increase to more than six hundred within a year, starting from 
a single egg-capsule. After adequate culture beds have been 
established, it is a simple matter to build up the cultures to a 
point where biological soil-building on a substantial scale is pos- 
sible. A single Earthmaster Culture Bed, impregnated with 
3,000 Domesticated Earthworm Egg-Capsules, forms the founda- 
tion for a fascinating hobby, or a profitable and satisfying home 










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Earthworm Tillage 

WE SHALL define "earthworm tillage" as a general term cover- 
ing methods adopted to encourage the maximum development 
of native earthworm population in the land. And as a practical 
part of earthworm tillage methods, we should include intensive 
propagation of earthworms for "seeding" the land with egg- 
capsules, not only to accelerate the development of a numerous 
worm population in the shortest possible time, but also as a 
method for utilizing every possible organic waste material in 
building topsoil to be used as a top-dressing in garden, orchard 
and farm. 

In our chapter on "My Grandfather's Earthworm Farm," 
the methods described would be classed as earthworm tillage. In 
the chapter on "Orcharding with Earthworms," we touched on 
earthworm tillage methods as followed by Mr. Hinckley in his 
citrus orchard. We should say that Edward H. Faulkner's 
book Plowman's Folly is primarily an able discussion of earth- 
worm tillage. In fact, the remarkable results reported in that 
book we should attribute to the fauna of the soil, with very great 
emphasis placed on the earthworm population. However, the 
question is not "to plow or not to plow" ; we shall not enter that 
controversial field. We advise every student of earthworm cul- 
ture to read carefully Plowman's Folly, as well as everything 
else he can find on organic methods. It is all instruction in 
earthworm tillage and earthworm culture. Once the basic prin- 



ciples are grasped, a new world of possibilities and instruction 
is revealed for study and experimentation. 

We also recommend as possibly the most important book 
on basic organic methods Sir Albert Howard's An Agricultural 
Testament. If we were recommending one single book from 
all books on the subject for earthworm students, we would say, 
"read An Agricultural Testament." However, once one has 
started on a study of organic methods, as contrasted with the 
strictly "chemical" school of thought, one finds the sources of 
recorded information almost endless, with the soil itself as a 
fascinating subject for practical experimentation and never- 
failing interest. 

As an outstanding example of what we mean by "earth- 
worm tillage," showing the tremendous increase in food produc- 
tion that may take place through use of such methods, we repro- 
duce an article which appeared in the February, 1945, issue of 
Farm Journal and Farmer's Wife, under the title, "Earthworms, 
150,000 to the Acre." This report on the farming methods and 
results obtained by Mr. Christopher Gallup is a corroboration of 
the methods which we described in the chapter on "My Grand- 
father's Earthworm Farm," but applied to a modern farm with 
modern machinery. 

Incidentally, we have been in correspondence with Mr. Gal- 
lup, who is an energetic, aggressive student of modern methods 
and a successful farmer. In connection with the story of his 
farm, we quote a few lines from a letter received from him under 
date of April 18, 1945 : "When we used to get 70 bushel baskets 
of corn per acre, the borers just raised cain with it ; but when our 
yield had been stepped up to 196 baskets per acre, the borers 
practically dropped out of the picture." In another letter from 
Mr. Gallup under date of June 3, 1945, he remarks: "Saturday 
we finished putting 37 truck loads of hay into the barn from two 
fields that produced only 21 truck loads last year. No manure 
or fertilizer was used in making the difference." 


Earthworms: 150,000 to the Acre 
By Williams Haynes 

(This article reproduced by permission of FARM JOUKNAL AND 
FARMER'S WIFE and by permission of WILLIAMS HAYNES) 

FISHERMEN each season dangle millions of earthworms in likely 
waters. No other bait enjoys such popularity with anglers. The 
fish may, or may not, hold similar views. 

Christopher Gallup looks at the earthworm as bait for big- 
ger crops. More earthworms, he contends, mean higher fertility. 

In evidence he offers a yield of 196 bushel baskets of ear 
corn, in contrast to the 80 bushels his earlier methods produced. 
His swarming earthworms annually leave more than eight tons 
of their casts per acre. (The cast is the deposit after the worm 
digests the vegetable and mineral material which it eats.) 

Then Gallup points to the chemical analysis of these casts. 
Compared with other topsoil, they contain five times as much ni- 
trogen, seven times as much phosphorus, eleven times as much 
potash, three times as much magnesium. 

How does one persuade the earthworms to multiply? Feed 
them, says Gallup; feed them trash and organic matter. His 
method is to work everything possible into the top six inches of 
soil, where, in the lower four inches, the worms do most of their 

Gallup's farm lies among stony hills of eastern Connecticut. 
Two hundred and seventy years ago when King Philip and his 
Narragansett braves, in 1675, took to the war-path and ravaged 
that corner of Connecticut, a forebear of Christopher Gallup al- 
ready had some of the farm cleared. 

Fifteen years ago, determined to be successful as a farmer, 
as he had previously been in a Hartford insurance company, 
Gallup began operating the family's ancient homestead. 

Left, Christopher Gallup 
and, below, his chief tool, 
the Spring -tooth Harrow 
and Tractor with which he 
feeds his Earthworms. 


He says, "I went into our little fields with a heavy plow 
hooked to a 20 H.P. caterpillar tractor, determined to give that 
old land the works. I plowed deep. I put on lime and commer- 
cial fertilizer. I did everything the experts advised. I firmly 
believed with all its stones our New England soil was good soil. 
But the best I could get was 80 bushels of corn, in spite of a lot 
of fertilizer and hard work." Ultimately, Gallup hit on his 
answer the spring-tooth harrow plus earthworms. 

No one, Gallup says, knows all about earthworms. They 
eat and digest both decaying vegetation and soil itself. Their 
tunnels carry air and water into the ground. Exactly what hap- 
pens in the gizzards between their suction mouths and the fertile 
casts is yet to be found out. 

A scientist's count indicates that in Gallup's best fields as 
many as 150,000 worms inhabit each acre. A western student 
believes the worm population on an acre could be increased to 
ten times that number, enough to bring two and half tons of 
digested material to the surface each twenty- four hours. That's 
a lot of plant food in any language. 

Gallup figures that four years are needed to build up the 
worm numbers. Harrowing the trash in helps in the first year 
to create their food supply. The second year the breeding stock 
begins to congregate, the third it multiplies. By the fourth the 
worms are heaving up subsoil in quantity. 

"Nowadays," he explains, "we get out with the tooth-harrow 
as soon as the frost is out. That is a good three weeks earlier 
than we could use a plow, and a couple of weeks before the land 
could be worked with a disc harrow. Grass and perennial weeds 
can then be killed with surprising ease." 

Gallup's cultivating method is to set the teeth of the harrow 
at the most shallow notch, and to go over the field several times. 
Then he spreads his manure and promptly harrows it in. After 
each heavy spring rain he harrows again, both ways, each time 
lowering the teeth one notch. 

Frequently people ask, "What about the trash? Doesn't it 


bunch up?" "And," they add, "aren't your fields 'dirty,' and 
isn't that litter an A-l incubator for pests?" 

Gallup says "No" to both questions. He is, in fact, strongly 
of the view that "earthworm tillage" keeps down the corn borers. 

Early in the spring before a bit of new growth starts, the 
trash even heavy trash like corn stubble is quite tender after 
having been softened by frost and snow. Warm sun and spring 
rains, and the worms, hurry its decay. Even at the first har- 
rowing, Gallup says the trash almost never bunches, and by plant- 
ing time it has disappeared. 

When he brings a piece of sod into cultivation, Gallup cuts 
the sod with a disc harrow late in July, and rakes crossways 
with the spring-tooth. Next he manures heavily and rakes in 
lightly with the spring-tooth. After five cultivations, he sows 
rye, and is ready by spring for his regular procedure. 

You notice at once that he cultivates both in preparation 
and in regular tillage more often than usual. However, the 
tractor in high speed can harrow five or six times as fast as plow 
or cultivator can travel. 

While the soil is still loose the corn is drilled in rows with 
a planter and cultivator with hiller-discs that throw a heavy ridge 
over the driled seed. This, he believes, gives extra moisture for 
germination. Four to eight days later the cultivator with weeder 
teeth in front breaks down the ridge, destroying any young weeds. 
When the corn is a foot high the hiller-disc again throws back 
the ridge. Tractor cutivation continues until the corn is two feet 

Gallup does not use hybrid seed. This spring he will plant 
selected seed from his 1944 crop, which will be detasseled for 
growing seed. He will also plant selected corn from his 1943 
crop for the pollen rows in his seed plot. He thinks this avoids 
the disadvantages of inbreeding and gives vigor. 

"Part of our increased yields/ 1 says Gallup, "is due to this 
kind of seed selection. But the method of cultivation which 
brings on more earthworms is mainly responsible." Maybe he 
has something. 


Technical Discussion; Facts, Figures and References 

IN THIS book, so far, we have purposely avoided technical terms 
and discussion. We set out to create a mental picture of the 
importance of the earthworm in nature and to point the way to 
harnessing the earthworm in the intensive service of man. In 
our handling of the subject, we have made broad claims for the 
value of earthworms, some of the claims supported, and some 
unsupported except by our own experimental findings. For those 
who are not informed fully on the subject, and for those who 
might seriously question much of the foregoing, we are glad to 
reproduce a highly valuable report recently released for publica- 
tion by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. In 
this report on "The Chemical Composition of Earthworm Casts," 
H. A. Lunt and H. G. M. Jacobson have revealed in a few well- 
written pages the scientific basis of all the claims made for earth- 
worms by popular writers, including the author if this book. 
Also, the inclusion of this authoritative report will satisfy the 
technical and strictly scientific students who might otherwise 
question, or even throw aside, this book as not worth their atten- 

In the last paragraph of the Lunt and Jacobson report, un- 
der the heading of "Discussion," we find the statement : "Whether 
or not it is practicable deliberately to increase the worm popula- 
tion is another question and one which still lacks an answer." 
We believe that Harnessing the Earthworm is a very definite 



answer to this question, and in the affirmative ; although the con- 
tents of this book, with the instances and experiments cited, are 
obviously not familiar to the writers of "The Chemical Compo- 
sition of Earthworm Casts." The same comment applies to the 
concluding statement in the "Summary" by Doctors Lunt and 
Jacobson, which reads: "Conditions favorable to the worms, 
however, are at the same time favorable to plant growth, and 
quantitative measurements under field conditions of the part the 
worms play in crop production have not as yet been obtained." 
As a further comment on this last quotation, we may point out 
that the field soil samples reported on in this bulletin were col- 
lected from the farm of Mr. Christopher M. Gallup. We con- 
sider that the experience of Mr. Gallup in increasing his pro- 
duction of corn from 80 bushels per acre to an average of 196 
bushels per acre as at least one startling example of what can 
be accomplished through ''earthworm tillage." 

In the following pages we give the report of Doctors Lunt 
and Jacobson in its entirety, with the valuable list of reference 
books at the end of the report. 


Reprinted from SOIL Scixncx 
Vol. 58, No. 5, November, 1944 

The Chemical Composition of Earthworm Casts 1 

H. A. Lunt and H. G. M. Jacobson 2 

Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station 
Received for publication July 22, 1944 

MANY years ago Gilbert White, 3 and later, Darwin (2) stressed 
the value of earthworms to agriculture, and agronomists and 
foresters as well as many practical farmers and gardeners have 
recognized the improvement in the physical condition of the soil 
brought about by these inhabitants. Little has been done, how- 
ever, to exploit the idea or to "put the worms to work" on any 
extensive scale until recently. A number of farmers have adopted 
what is called "earthworm tillage" or "biodynamic farming," 
the terms not being exactly synonymous but referring to prac- 
tices which have some features in common. The reported suc- 
cesses of these farming methods have prompted the study of the 
properties of worm casts in comparison with the soil mass as a 
whole. No effort was made to obtain quantitative measurements 
of the amount of cast material thrown up in a year, although a 
rough estimate was made of the quantity present on the field at 
the time of sampling. 

1 Contribution from the department of soils, Connecticut Agricultural 
Experiment Station, New Haven* Connecticut. 

2 Associate in forest soils and associate agronomist, respectively. 

3 Russell (8) quotes the folowing from Gilbert White, published in 
1777: "Worms seem to be the great promoters of vegetation, which would 
proceed but lamely without them, by boring, perforating, and loosening the 
soil, and rendering it pervious to rains and the fibers of plants, by drawing 
straws and stalks of leaves and twigs into it ; and, most of all, by throwing 
up such infinite numbers of lumps of earth called worm-casts, which, being 
their excrement, is a fine manure for grain and grass ... the earth with- 
out worms would soon become cold, hard-bound, and void of fermentation, 
and consequently sterile," 



Although several workers have investigated the activities 
and the benefits of earthworms, only a few data on the compo- 
sition of the casts have been published. Darwin (2) devoted a 
whole book to the subject of earthworms but did not include any 
such data. Hensen(3) found that loss on ignition of worm 
excrement lining the burrows was 3.3 to 5 per cent, compared 
with 2.3 per cent for the unworked soil. He also mentioned that 
Miiller reported 24 to 30 per cent loss on ignition for worm ex- 
crement in contrast to about 8 per cent for soil. Salisbury (9) 
found that worm casts had a higher organic matter content than 
the soil in six cases out of eight. He also reported that the re- 
action of the casts was usually more nearly neutral than was that 
of the original soil. Similar findings have been reported by 
Robertson (7) and are shown in the data of Puh given below. 
Blanck and Giescke (1) found a marked increase in the nitrify- 
ing power of three different soil types as the result of earthworm 
activity. Earthworm casts collected from cut-over land on two 
soil types had higher base-exchange capacities, organic matter, 
and nitrogen contents than did the unworked soil mass, according 
to Powers and Bollen (5). They discovered that barley grown 
in pots produced much higher yields when earthworms were 
present than when the soil was free of worms. 

Robertson (7) has shown that earthworms secrete calcium 
carbonate concretions in their calciferous glands. Secretion can 
take place under acid, neutral, or alkaline conditions, provided 
the worms have access to material containing calcium. He points 
out, however, that these concretions, which are excreted in the 
casts, do not affect the reaction of the casts in the least; it is 
rather the secretions of the gut wall which are responsible for 
changes in the reaction of the casts. When worms were kept on 
filter paper or in acid peat, formation of calcite concretions ceased 
after a week or 10 days. 


Stockli (10) studied the effect of earthworms on the soil in 
ten different places including garden, meadow, and forest soils. 
He found great variations in their activity from place to place 
and from season to season. Temperature and moisture were all 
important; geological origin of the soil was of no consequence. 
In comparison with the undisturbed soil, the casts and the linings 
of the tunnels had, in general, higher pH and loss-on-ignition 
values, higher content of humus soluble in 30 per cent EbCb, and 
higher bacterial count. 

Using a noncalcareous loamy clay, not ordinarily occupied 
by worms, with which were mixed 1 part calcareous sandy soil 
to 9 parts of the loamy clay, and finely cut leaves and stems of 
Lactuca sativa, Puh (6) introduced earthworms. (Pkeretima buc- 
culenta) and left them for two months. At the end of this time 
the casts covered virtually the whole surface. Her analyses of 
the soil and of the worm casts at the end of this period were as 
follows : 

Parent Worm 

Soil Casts 

pH (noncalcareous loamy clay) 6.2 6.8 

pH (noncalcareous loamy clay, with calcareous 

sand) 6.4 6.7 

8.5 7.4 

pH (calcareous loamy clays) 7.8 7.5 

8.0 7.2 

Base capacity per 100 gm m.e. 21.0 

Exchangeable calcium (CaO) per 100 gm..m.*. 17.8 17.8 

Available phosphorus p. p.m. 37.3 

Available potassium p. p.m. 193.0 294.0 

Ammonia nitrogen p. p.m. 33.0 49.0 

CaO P*r cent 1.95 2.37 

Total nitrogen per cent 0.054 0.151 

Organic matter percent 1.20 1.52 

Lindquist (4) reports that earthworms increase nitrate pro- 
duction not only by mixing humus with mineral soil and stimu- 
lating bacterial activity but also through the decomposition of 
their own bodies. 



To obtain more complete data than have been published here- 
tofore, to the knowledge of the writers, samples of casts and of 
the surrounding soil mass were collected in the fall of 1942 from 
both field and forest and were subjected to rather complete ana- 
lysis. 4 The field samples were obtained in a field of sorghum and 
soybean stubble and young sweet clover on Earthworm Tillage 
Farms No. 1 5 , in North Stonington, Connecticut. The "earth- 
worm tillage" consists essentially in working the stubble and 
other plant debris into the upper 4 or 5 inches of soil by means 
of disk and spring-tooth harrows, rather than plowing under in 
the conventional manner. Everything possible is done to supply 
food for the worms in order to increase their number. The field, 
of approximately 4 acres, was being pastured by ten steers and 
two milk cows. The soil is principally Hinckley gravelly loam, 
and the higher portion is classed as belonging to the Gloucester 
or Plymouth series. Samples were collected at 5-pace intervals 
along six lines across the field, and each group of line samples 
was composited into one sample. In each case three kinds of 
material were taken; first, earthworm casts; second, the adjoin- 
ing soil mass to a depth of 6 inches ; and third, soil at the 8- 16- 
inch level. 

The forest soil samples, obtained in four separate areas, con- 
sisted of casts; Al horizon (nearby top J/ to 1 inch of soil, not 
casts); A3 horizon (lj^ to 8- inch layer consisting of the re- 
mainder of A and, in some cases, a part of the B horizon) ; and 
B, horizon (8 to 20 inches, more or less). Locations and descrip- 
tions of the areas are as follows : 

I. Mt Carmel State Park. Hamden. Holyoke stony fine sandy 
loam. Mixed hard woods, principally oak with maple and dogwood. Sam- 

Field samples were collected by H. G. M. Jacobson and E. J. Rubins ; 
those from forested areas, by H. A. Lunt and D. B. Downs. Most of the 
analyses were made by Mr. Rubins. 

5 Property of Christopher M. Gallup. 


pies were taken at edge of timber just in the open. Casts were numerous 
and well denned. (In the woods, casts prevailed, but it would have been 
difficult to find unworked material.) 

II. Middletown, private property. Southington stony fine sandy loam. 
Principally white oak, with black oak, hickory, sugar maple, and other 
species. Casts were so numerous it was difficult to be sure of unworked 
soil. (Subsequent analyses, however, showed a marked difference in proper- 
ties of the casts as compared with the surrounding soil mass.) 

III. Meshomasic State Forest, Portland. Hinsdale stony fine sandy 
loam. Mixed hardwoods consisting principally of red oak, chestnut oak, 
white oak, dogwood, and sugar maple. Abundant casts. 

IV. Middlefield, private property. Southington stony fine sandy loam. 
Mixed hardwoods, consisting of white, red, and chestnut oaks, hickory, 
sugar maple, dogwood, sassafras, and hemlock. Casts were abundant. 

Quantitative measurements of the number of casts produced 
throughout the year or of the number of earthworms were not 
attempted, nor was identification of the worms as to species. A 
rough estimate indicated that, at the time of sampling, the casts 
in the field numbered approximately three to the square foot and 
weighed 2 ounces apiece, which amounted to about 129,000 per 
acre and a weight of 160,000 pounds. 


Data pertaining to the analyses of the casts and soil from 
the cultivated field are given in table 1. In most cases agreement 
between samples from several parts of the field was good, and 
differences between horizons were considerably greater than were 
differences between samples from the same horizon. In nearly all 
cases the casts showed higher values than the 0-6 inch layer, 
which in turn were higher than those of the 8-16-inch depth. 
Greatest differences were found in available phosphorus and ex- 
changeable potassium and magnesium, the increases in the casts 
over the surrounding topsoil ranging from threefold to eleven- 
fold. Even the nitrogen, organic carbon, and total calcium figures 
are obviously highly significant, the differences being 35 to 50 
per cent. The lower clay content of the casts may or may not 



Properties of earthworm casts and of soil from cultivated field 
Values given are means of six samples* with standard deviations 













Total nitrogen percent 







Organic carbon per cent 







Carbon : nitrogen 







Loss on ignition per cent 
Nitrate nitrogen .p.p.m 







Available phosphorus 
(Truofir) . t>.t>.m 







Exchangeable calcium p.p.m, 
Exchangeable magnesium 
Exchangeable Ca: exchange- 
able Mg = X-l . 








Total calcium , per cent 







Total magnesium . . .per cent 
Total Ca: total Mg = X:l.. 
Exchangeable Ca in per cent 
of total Ca 













Exchangeable Mg in per cent 
of total Mg 







Exchangeable potassium 
Exchangeable hydrogen 
m.e. 100 gm. 
Base capacity m.e. 100 gm. 
Per cent saturation 














oH . 







Moisture equivalent, .per cent 
Siltt . . . Per cent 



48 3 




Total colloidst per cent 




Clayf percent 




Fine clayt per cent 




* Each sample was a composite of individual samples collected at 5-pace intervals 
on a line across the field. There were six lines, hence six samples. 
t Composite samples from whole field. 

be significant. The total magnesium contents of casts and of 
soil were virtually identical. 

In the forest soils (table 2) agreement among the four pro- 
files was remarkably close, and differences between horizons are 
obviously highly significant. The higher contents of nitrogen, 


Properties of earthworm casts and of soil from forested areas 




CAIT Al A3 Bl 


Toul N, % (WF) 

Organic C, % (WF) 



0.630 0.382 0.133 0.086 
0.630 0.292 0.106 0.039 
0.717 0.320 0.151 0.071 
0.523 0.314 0.131 0.062 

14.9 6.5 2.0 1.3 
17.4 5.3 1.8 0.6 
16.6 6.8 2.7 1.0 
13.4 5.0 2.1 0.9 

23.8 17.1 14.7 15.7 
27.6 18.0 17.1 15.9 
23.1 21.1 17.5 14.7 
25.7 15.8 16.0 13.7 


0.625 0.327 0.130 0.064 

15.6 5.9 2.1 1.0 

25.1 18.0 16.3 15.0 


Loss on ignition, % (WF) 

Available P (Truog), % 



5.41 4.75 4.48 4.60 
5.35 4.65 4.55 4.69 
5.00 4.43 4.71 4.82 
5.29 4.66 4.69 4.73 

27.6 13.6 5.8 4.8 
32.4 11.7 3.6 2.9 
30.2 12.6 5.6 3.0 
25.7 11.8 5.3 3.4 

27.4 22.3 7.8 9.4 
19.4 9.1 5.1 3.9 
21.3 20.9 6.8 13.2 
16.1 7.7 3.6 3.3 


5.26 4.62 4.61 4.71 

29.0 12.4 5.1 3.5 

21.1 15.0 5.8 7.5 

Exchangeable Ca, p.p.m. 

Exchangeable Mg, p.p.m. 

Exch. Ca: exch. Mg 


4,280 1,183 95 111 
5,300 844 151 200 
3,272 224 51 46 
2,900 738 323 325 

328 109 27 26 
511 153 24 69 
354 69 15 12 
480 227 105 127 

13.0 10.8 3.5 4.3 
10.4 5.5 6.3 2.9 
9.2 3.2 3.4 3.8 
6.0 3.3 3.1 2.6 


3,938 747 155 171 

418 140 43 59 

i.6 5.7 4.1 3.4 

Total Ca, % (WF) 

Total Mg, % (WF) 

Total Ca: total Mg 


1.00 0.94 0.62 0.59 
1.05 0.58 0.51 0.47 
1.40 1.46 1.36 1.21 
0.78 0.42 0.48 0.4S 

0.378 0.648 0.614 0.580 
0.591 0.691 0.530 0.555 
0.592 0.643 0.564 0.580 
0.534 0.661 0.685 0.582 

2.64 1.45 1.01 1.02 
1.78 0.84 0.96 0.85 
2.36 2.27 2.41 2.09 
1.46 0.63 0.70 0.77 


1.06 0.85 0.74 0.68 

0.524 0.661 0.598 0.574 

2.06 1.30 1.27 1.18 

Exch. Ca in % of total Ca 

Exch. Mg in % of 

Exchangeable K, p. p. SB 

total Mg 



42.8 12.6 1.5 1.9 
50.S 14.5 3.0 2.3 
23.4 1.S 0.4 ).4 
37.2 17.6 6.7 ?J 

8.68 1.68 0.44 0.45 
8.65 2.21 0.45 1.24 
5.98 1.07 0.27 0.21 
8.98 3.43 1.53 2.18 

293 217 35 35 
217 151 19 12 
247 115 43 25 
168 69 30 30 


38.5 11.5 2.9 2.9 

8.07 2.10 0.67 1.02 

231 138 32 25 


TABLE 2 Continued 



Al A3 
















Exch. H, m. e. 
100 gm. 


Base capacity, m.e. 
100 gm. 


% Saturation 


9.5 6.6 
9.4 5.6 
13.0 6.6 
9.3 5.7 












10.3 6.1 









Moisture equivalent, % 

Total colloids, % 



27.4 19.9 
31.2 18.5 
26.8 18.1 
35.1 24.4 











30.1 20.2 










*WF valves are on a water-free basis. 

organic carbon, and exchangeable calcium in the casts were even 
more pronounced here than they were in the field soil, particu- 
larly when the A^ horizon is considered. The AI and A3 together 
correspond roughly to the 0-6-inch layer of the cultivated soil. 
On the other hand differences in available phosphorus and ex- 
changeable potassium and magnesium were distinctly smaller than 
in the field soil. Total magnesium content was actually lower in 
the casts than in Ax. There was no essential difference in 
either the total colloids or the clay content of the casts as com- 
pared with the AI horizon, but both were considerably lower in 
the A 3 . 

In comparison with the cultivated soil, the forest soil casts 
were much higher in nitrogen, carbon, exchangeable calcium, and 
moisture-equivalent values. The higher proportion of exchange- 
able calcium to exchangeable magnesium in the upper horizon of 
the field soil was not observed in the forest soil, nor was there 
any such relation between total calcium and total magnesium in 


either soil. The proportion of calcium that was in exchangeable 
form was about the same in the casts as it was in the AI horizon 
in the field soil, but in the forest soil the proportion in the casts 
was distinctly higher than in the A horizons. The proportion 
of magnesium that was exchangeable was definitely higher in 
the casts in both soils. 

In all cases the pH of the casts was higher than in the 
parent soil. Nitrate nitrogen was not determined on the forest 
soils. Lime applied sometime in the past to the cultivated soil 
had raised the pH, total calcium, and, with one exception, the 
exchangeable calcium content of all horizons considerably above 
the corresponding values found in the forest soils. 


Soil in which earthworms are active is invariably in better 
physical condition than is similar soil without earthworms. 
Though it is the opinion of some that the worms are present be- 
cause of the favorable soil conditions, there is sufficient evidence 
(1, 3, 8, 10) to indicate that earthworms do very definitely im- 
prove soil structure by increasing aggregate content and porosity, 
thus facilitating aeration, water absorption, root penetration, and 
drainage. Stockli (10) reported that casts contained no par- 
ticles larger than 2 mm. in diameter and that in some cases par- 
ticle size was reduced by means of a rubbing action inside the 
digestive tract of the worm. Mechanical analyses of our samples 
showed no essential differences in the texture of casts and topsoil. 

From the biological standpoint, casts have been found to 
contain a much larger bacterial population than the unworked 
soil (10). 

The data on chemical properties herein reported confirm 
those published by Powers and Bollen (5) and by Puh (6), with 
one notable difference in Puh's work. She found the casts to be 
markedly higher in total calcium but not in exchangeable cal- 
cium. No explanation for this difference was given. 


Only a cursory examination of the data is needed to show 
the higher fertility status of the casts. What is the explanation ? 
Is it due to substances brought up from the subsoil, or can it 
be attributed to direct action of the worms on the soil material? 
To answer these questions, it is necessary to examine the habits 
of earthworms. They make their tunnels, in part, by pushing 
the earth away on all sides, but mostly by swallowing it and 
depositing the excrement at the surface. In dry or cold weather 
they retire to considerable depth 4 to 6 and even 8 feet. In 
favorable weather they are active in the top 6 or 8 inches of soil. 
Their food consists of plant and animal remains on the surface 
and in the upper layers of the soil; and apparently some nutri- 
ment is obtained from the soil itself. In the light of these facts 
it is interesting to speculate as to what would happen in an in- 
verted profile, i.e., with the A and C horizons reversed. The 
fact that worm casts are less acid (or less alkaline in alkaline 
soils) than the soil even where the worms are confined to the 
surface soil (6, 9), shows that the change in reaction is not de- 
pendent upon the transporting of less acid (or less alkaline) 
subsoil to the surface. Burrowing in the subsoil is done only to 
provide living quarters during unfavorable weather. It would 
appear, therefore, that the amount of subsoil carried to the sur- 
face is relatively small. If the subsoil is calcareous, the amount 
of such material brought to the surface might, over a long period 
of time, be sufficient to increase the calcium (and perhaps mag- 
nesium) content of the surface soil. Likewise, if the subsoil con- 
tained a higher concentration of any other material, it might 
influence the composition of the surface soil. 

The main benefit, chemically (and biologically), of earth- 
worm activity is the digestion of plant material and its intimate 
mixing with mineral soil. The concentration of the principal 
plant-food elements (except K) in the plant is considerably 
higher than it is in the soil. For example, in southern New Eng- 
land, forest tree leaves contain in the neighborhood of 0.5 to 
2.5 per cent N, 0.1 to 0.5 per cent P, 0.6 to 2.0 per cent K, and 


1 to 4 per cent Ca ; whereas the amount in the soil averages about 
0.2, 0.8, 1.5, and 0.5 per cent respectively, only a fraction of 
which is available to the plant. Both the mechanical mixing and 
the action of digestive secretions favor the decomposition of the 
organic matter and of soil minerals. The resultant product con- 
tains a lower concentration of plant- food than the plant residues 
but a higher concentration than the soil. The process may be 
likened to the consumption of grass, hay, and grains by cattle 
and the subsequent return of the manure to the soil, with this 
difference, however, The cattle (or the milk from cows) are 
sold from the farm, resulting in net loss to the soil of a certain 
amount of plant- food. Also, some losses occur in the manure 
before it is incorporated with the soil. The earthworm, on the 
other hand, dies in the soil and its decomposed body returns plant- 
food to the soil without loss. It has been found that the increased 
nitrification that takes place when earthworms are introduced 
into the soil is due, in part at least, to the decomposition of their 
own bodies (6, 8). Russell (8) reported the nitrogen content of 
worms to be 1.5 to 2.0 per cent or about 10 mgm. of N per worm. 
That yields may be increased by the presence of earthworms 
has been demonstrated in pot culture studies (5, 8). On a field 
scale, however, no accurate quantitative comparisons have been 
made, to the knowledge of the writers. Inasmuch as any practice 
that favors earthworm activity is also favorable to plant growth, 
it is extremely difficult in the field to determine to what degree 
the worms are responsible for any increase in yields or improve- 
ment in quality of the crop. Obviously one should avoid any 
practice that would materially reduce earthworm activity. 
Whether or not it is practicable deliberately to increase the worm 
population is another question and one which still lacks an an- 


Samples of earthworm casts and of unworked soil from sev- 
eral depths were collected from a cultivated field and from four 


forested areas and subjected to chemical and mechanical analyses. 

At the time of sampling, the field soil contained approxi- 
mately three casts to the square foot, averaging 2 ounces each, 
or 16,000 pounds to the acre. 

In the field soil, casts contained less exchangeable hydrogen 
and a lower clay content than the 0-6 inch layer; but the casts 
had higher pH values and were higher in total and nitrate 
nitrogen, organic matter, total and exchangeable calcium, ex- 
changeable potassium and magnesium, available phosphorus, base 
capacity, base saturation, and moisture equivalent. Total mag- 
nesium was about equal in all samples. 

Forest soil samples showed similar but even more striking 
results. Forest soil casts were higher in nitrogen, organic carbon, 
and exchangeable calcium, and had a higher moisture equivalent 
than the casts from the field soil. 

These changes in composition as the result of earthworm 
activity are due chiefly to the intimate mixing of plant and animal 
remains with mineral soil in the digestive tract of the worm and 
to the action of digestive secretions on the mixture. That earth- 
worms are beneficial to the soil has been established beyond a 
doubt. Conditions favorable to the worms, however, are at the 
same time favorable to plant growth, and quantitative measure- 
ments under field conditions of the part the worms play in crop 
production have not as yet been obtained. 


(1) BLANCK, E., AND GIESCKE, F. 1924 [On the influence of earthworms 

on the physical and biological properties of the soil.] Ztschr. 
Pflanzenernahr. Diingung. u. Bodenk. 3 (B) : 198-210. (Abstract 
in Exp. Sta. Rec. 54:718. 1926.) 

(2) DARWIN, C. 1837 The formation of vegetable mould through the 

action of worms. Trans. Geol. Soc. (London) 5 :505. [Also in 
book form : D. Appleton and Co., New York. 1882.] 

(3) HENSEN, V. 1882 Uber die Fruchtbarkeit des Erdbodens in ihrer 

Abhangigkeit von den Leistungen der in der Erdrinde lebenden 
Wurmer. Landw. Jahrb. 11:661-698. 


(4) LINDQUIST, B. 1941 [Investigations of the importance of some Scan- 

dinavian earthworms for the decomposition of broadleaf litter 
and for the structure of mull.] (In Swedish, German summary.) 
Svensk. Skog wards for. Tidskr. 39:179-242. (Abstract in BioL 
Abs. D16, entry 6276.) 

(5) POWERS, W. L., AND BOLLEN, W. B. 1935 The chemical and bio- 

logical nature of certain forest soils. Soil Sci. 40:321-329. 

(6) Pun, P. C. 1941 Beneficial influence of earthworms on some 

chemical properties of the soil. Sci. Soc. China, BioL Lab. 
Contrib., Zool Ser. 15:147-155. 

(7) ROBERTSON, J. D. 1936 The function of the calciferous glands of 

earthworms. Jour. Exp. BioL 13:279-297. 

(8) RUSSELL, E. J. 1910 The effect of earthworms on soil productiveness. 

Jour. Agr. Sci. 3:246-257: 
(8) SALISBURY, E. J. 1924 The influence of earthworms on soil reaction 

and the stratification of undisturbed soils. Jour. Linnean Soc., 

Bot. 46:415-425. 
(10) STOCKLI, A. 1928 Studien iiber den Einfluss des Regenwurm auf 

die Beschaff enheit des Bodens. Landw. Jahrb. Schweiz 42 :5-121. 


The New Frontier 

THE crowding populations of the earth stand on the last 
frontier the lands beneath their feet. Migration to more fa- 
vored regions is no longer possible. On every border stands a 
man with a gun, warning: "You can't come here." There is no 
more land. It is all preempted, with a sign erected, "No Tres- 
passing Keep Off!" Each country is determined to reserve 
and conserve its dwindling supply of topsoil to feed its own peo- 
ple. Practically all countries in the world, particularly the more 
densely populated, now face or will eventually face a need for 
more arable land. There is only one possible way to supply this 
pressing demand, and that is to build more soil. 

We have called this last frontier a "new frontier" a place 
of opportunity whereon we conceive of the possibility of literally 
building a new earth to supply more richly all our needs and de- 
sires, both in the immediate future and for many generations to 
come. The individual can exploit the potentialities of this new 
frontier to his own immediate benefit. An entire nation can de- 
velop this new frontier for the present generation and for future 
generations. Our concept is not based upon some magic formula 
for synthetic soil-building, or speculative synthetic production of 
food. Using the same tried and tested tools, forces, and ma- 
terials with which nature works, but at a highly accelerated tempo, 
supplemented and aided by the use of modern machinery and the 
accumulated knowledge of the forces and materials with which 



we work, we can build topsoil and accomplish within a period of 
months or a few short years what nature requires decades and 
even centuries to accomplish. Nature has provided the example, 
with simple and definite instructions written into the geological 
pages of the earth, in processes which we can observe, utilize, 
and improve upon. In the foregoing chapters of this book we 
have discussed the examples and lessons which nature has pro- 

As has been pointed out over and over, topsoil is the living 
surface of the earth upon which all life depends both vegetable 
and animal life. This living surface is a very thin blanket, 
stretched over the earth, threadbare in many places, with vast 
areas of sterile rock and eroded slopes showing through. By far 
the greater part of the earth's surface is measured in millions of 
square miles of non-arable land deserts, mountains, swamps, 
steaming tropical jungles. The limited area of arable land has 
been closely estimated, surveyed or measured. 

The meaning of "limited," as applied to the arable topsoil 
of the earth can be best illustrated by asking and answering two 
simple questions, involving rudimentary mathematics: 

Question: "How much cultivable land is there in the world?" 

Answer: "Approximately, four billion acres." 

Question: "How many people are there in the world?" 

Answer: "Over two billion." 

That is, there are an average of about two acres of arable 
land per person. Consider the situation in what is probably the 
most favored land in the world the United States. With our 
present population, we have approximately three acres of arable 
land per person. Much of .this land is so depleted that, commer- 
cially considered, it is hardly profitable to farm it. Of what we 
would call good farm land, we have approximately two acres per 
person. The people of the United States barely feed themselves. 
While we export a great deal of food, yet in normal times our 
imports of food practically balance exports. Were we to provide 
a minimum standard of nutrition, as outlined by our government 


experts, carefully apportioned to our entire population, there 
would be at all times an actual food shortage in the United States. 
Our lend-lease food export program during World War II, and 
immediately following the war, has graphically brought to the 
attention of all our people the sad fact that there is not enough 
food to go around unless we are willing to reduce radically our 
standards of nutrition. 

From the above, and from even a casual survey of facts and 
available figures, we can see that the problem of providing for 
our own growing population, to say nothing of the population 
pressure throughout the balance of the world, is immediate and 
pressing and not something to be considered in the distant future. 
Soil-conservation is not enough. In addition to conserving and 
increasing the productivity of the soil we have, rebuilding and 
conditioning our so-called "worn out" soils and sub-marginal 
lands, we must build more soil on favorably located non-arable 
land. We have some hundreds of millions of acres of such lands 
on our new frontier. To exploit this new frontier, it is necessary 
only to apply the knowledge which we have to the available ma- 
terials which we have. So far as the knowledge is concerned, we 
refer to the accumulated technical information of the entire world 
of science. For our purpose, it is necessary merely to call atten- 
tion to this field of knowledge, and we can now add to it the new 
knowledge of atomic energy, the possibilities of which have not 
yet been explored for constructive use. For source materials 
with which to work, we briefly call attention to the mineral re- 
sources of the earth itself. Throughout the incalculable ages of 
the past, from the conception of primordial chaos down to the 
present world of form and substance as we know it, the parent 
mineral base of topsoil has been formed and deposited. In the 
superficial layers of the earth, from the visible surface on down 
to the bedrock, we have the inexhaustible parent mineral material 
of topsoil available for soil-building. The other source-parent- 
material of topsoil is vegetation and animal life, but primarily 


we should designate it as energy operating through what we popu- 
larly term "substance" or "material" in the mysterious processes 
of life. 


Accepting gold as a symbol of value or wealth, the greatest 
gold mine is located in the sky. We mean the sun figuratively 
speaking and literally speaking the source of all life on this 
planet, earth. And from the standpoint of soil-building on the 
new frontier, the sun is the primary source of topsoil, and the 
earth is the secondary source. 

Let us quote from the book To Hold This Soil by Russell 
Lord* : 

Blazing hot, 10,000 F. at the surface and enormously hotter 
within, the sun is earth's immediate source of life. Most sun 
power goes out to other heavenly bodies or far off into space; 
only about one two-billionth part reaches the earth. Even so, the 
delivered energy averages three-eights horsepower, day and night, 
on each square yard of land and sea. At noon, when the rays 
strike perpendicularly, the sun delivers lj^ horsepower to the 
square yard, upwards of 4J/2 million horsepower to the square 
mile, or 7,260 horsepower to the acre. 

Windmills run by sunpower. If the sun did not heat dif- 
ferent parts of earth's surface, and different layers of its water- 
laden atmosphere unevenly, no winds would blow. The sun 
draws surface water up for another run down the face of the 
continents. It is the pumping heart of the circulatory water sys- 
tem that keeps earth alive. 

Winds blow, clouds mount the wind, rain falls, and the lands 
are replenished. Streams and rivers flash to the sea, clouds form ; 
and the cycle continues. "All the rivers run into the sea ; yet the 
sea is not full ; unto the place from whence the rivers come. . . 
they return . . ." Ecclesiastes 1 :7. 

*Miscdlaneous Publication No. 321, U. S. Department of Agriculture, 
under the heading of "Celestial Dynamics." 


Sun power drives the weather mill that grinds soil and pro- 
pels still-secret processes by which in soil, sea, leaf, and flesh, our 
common ingredients sun, air, water and a sprinkling of earthy 
minerals combine into all forms of life and energy, including 

Our power age is a governed explosion of buried sun power. 
When coal, petroleum, and gasoline are burned, they deliver en- 
ergy the sun stored in plants aeons ago. Farmers plowing, 
miners digging, Sundays motorists out for an airing, airplane 
drivers streaking for Europe or South America all are develop- 
ing in their various persons and from their subject beast or 
equipage, sun power previously fixed for use through a film of 
soil ... 

Now for the transition from the poetical statement of the 
abstract generalization to the more prosaic practical application 
and analysis of the concrete facts : 

The dominant color of the earth what we might justifiably 
call the color of life is green. Life endures because the earth 
is green, the color-evidence of the existence of a substance which 
has been called the most important material in the world : chloro- 
phyll, leaf-green. Practically all the green substances of the plant 
world are so closely related chemically that they may, for prac- 
tical purposes, be designated as leaf-green or chlorophyll. The 
sun, acting upon the chlorophyll in the leaf of plants through 
the process known as "photosynthesis," produces sugar within 
the plant. And sugar is the beginning of life, the chemical start 
and nucleus around which the more complex compounds of pro- 
toplasm are formed. For a brief and masterly discussion of the 
meaning of chlorophyll, we refer the reader to a chapter in The 
Green Earth, by Harold William Rickett, under the heading of 
"The Green Color of Plants and What Comes of It." As one 
simple illustration, the sunlight, acting upon the chlorophyll in 
5 square inches of potato leaf will produce about 1 gram of 
sugar per month. Quoting from The Green Earth, "... A 
man may use, in the same time (1 month), the sugar made by 
30,000 such leaves. He may not, indeed, eat so much sugar; but 
all the food in his potatoes and in all the other comestibles which 


come to his table is derived from the sugar made in the leaves 
of plants potato plants and others. A definite number of leaves, 
whether grown in the fields or in a glasshouse, whether nourished 
directly by the soil or by the ingredients of soil purified and dis- 
solved in water to make a nutrient solution, a definite area of 
leaf surface is necessary for the support of one man for one 
month." So much for the place the sun occupies in the produc- 
tion of food for man. And the same nutrient elements which 
man uses are also used by the plant world in the growth of vege- 
tation. The nutrition of man and all animal life is merely an 
incidental function of vegetation. In its entirety, we see all 
vegetation as a parent material of topsoil, in its eventual break- 
ing down and disintegration of the earth to form the vital surface 
layer of homogenized earth. 

Vegetation is bedded in topsoil. Deep into the secret, neces- 
sary darkness of the earth the roots of plants ramnify, selecting 
the mineral elements which enter into their structure. Into the 
air reach the bole and branches, spreading the leaf-green sur- 
face to the sun; and, through the action of sunlight on chloro- 
phyll, appropriating the all-pervading nutritional elements from 
the air. Into the structure of the plant, through the life- forces 
working in the necessary light of day and working in the equally 
necessary dark of the night and dark of the earth, are combined 
the nutritional elements of life in the exact proportions necessary 
to reproduce the plant. From the parent repository of the air 
come 95% by weight carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen. 
From the parent repository of the earth come 5% by weight - 
potassium, silicon, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, sul- 
phur, chlorine, iron, with traces of many other known elements 
of the universe. To provide a chemical picture of the estimated 
average composition of the vegetation of the earth, expressed in 
pounds per thousand pounds of dry matter, we will give a break- 
down table of the figures. The figures are taken from Soil and 
Civilisation by Milton Whitney, Chief of the Bureau of Soils, 



U. S. Department of Agriculture, with rearrangement for pur- 
poses of illustration. 


From air 
Carbon (C) .. 
Oxygen (O) . . 
Hydrogen (H) 
Nitrogen (N) 

Pounds~\ A total of 950^ 

. . 443.0 I pounds of elements Protein 

Food classification 

100 pounds 

429.0 ^derived from the ^Carbohydrates . 820 pounds 

61.8 ( air, representing . . Fats 30 pounds 

16.2J j 

From earth 

Potassium (K) . . 16.8 

Silicon (Si) 7.0 

Calcium (Ca) .... 6.2 

Phosphorus (P) . 5.6 

Sodium (Na) .... 4.3 

Magnesium (Mg) . 3.8 

Sulphur (S) 3.7 

Chlorine (Cl) 2.2 

Iron (Fe) 0.4 . 

A total of 50 pounds of the named mineral ele- 
ments derived from the earth, all entering into 
or assisting in the manufacture of the above 
named food materials. While we have not named 
other trace elements, such as Boron, which con- 
stitute a minute part of the whole, these trace 
elements are of tremendous importance and can- 
not be ignored in arriving at final conclusions. 
These figures have been given to illustrate and 
emphasize the part which the sun plays in pro- 
viding, through photosynthesis, the major part 
by weight of parent material for the building 
of topsoil. 

From the foregoing pages, we can see that we will have no 
shortage of parent materials with which to work and exploit the 
new and last frontier. We hear the age-old soldier-crusader cry, 
the eternal questioning cry of conquering man on his upward 
path, "Where do we go from here?" As the idea takes hold of 
the constructive mind and creative imagination, the entire surface 
of the earth becomes a pleasant work-ground. There are no waste 
places: all is right and useful to the all-seeing and comprehend- 
ing mind of man. The earth and the fullness thereof becomes 
a new earth. We see that we can spread the sun- trap of leaf- 
green in practically all the so-called waste places of the earth, 
to catch and transform the inexhaustible resources of the air into 
usable, soil-building material for man. The tropical jungles, with 
their myriad forms of quick-growing vegetation, insect and ani- 


mal life, become a region for profitable harvest. The parent ele- 
ments of topsoil, the parent elements of life itself, cannot elude 
us. We have our earth, with the roots of vegetation to search 
out and mine the mineral elements from it; we have our sun- 
trap and the sun, to catch and hold the elements from the air 
while we transport them to the place of ultimate use. And we 
have the earthworm, holding the secret of soil-building and wait- 
ing to become the servant of man in the day and hour when man 
needs a new servant. 

As has been pointed out, any individual can harness the 
earthworm to build soil. Such individual use is a very simple 
matter. However, in the larger use of earthworms, their utiliza- 
tion becomes an engineering problem to be worked out by en- 
gineers. In the larger use, we can utilize standard heavy ma- 
chinery, such as tractors, bulldozers, dredges, road-buiding ma- 
chinery, compost grinding machines, shredders. Eventually all 
sewage and garbage disposal will become a soil-building opera- 
tion, in its final stages a biological process. The waste products 
of the world will feed the world. The garbage of a city will be 
transformed into enough topsoil to produce food for the city in 
a recurring cycle. It is not our purpose to attempt to go into 
engineering details, but to indicate and point out the possibilities, 
based on known facts. 

Throughout the ages of the past the earthworm in nature 
has been a master-builder of topsoil on the old frontiers. The 
earthworm is destined to become a master-builder of topsoil on 
the new frontier, harnessed and used intensively in the controlled 
service of man. 

Conclusion Summary 

"Animal life in all its forms, from microbe to man, is the 
great transformer of vegetation into perfect earthworm food, the 
animal life itself, in the end, becoming food for the earthworm. 
In the process of transformation, a small percentage becomes ani- 
mal tissue, but most of it becomes humus-building food for 
worms. In the feeding of domestic animals, such as cattle, sheep 
and hogs, out of each 100 pounds of grain fed, on the average, 
89 l /2 pounds becomes excrement, waste and gases, and 10% 
pounds is represented by increase in animal weight. 

"In a never-ending cycle untold millions of tons of the 
products of forest and farm, orchard and garden, are harvested, 
to be transformed into potential earthworm food after they have 
nourished animal life and served man. All the biological end- 
products of life kitchen and farm waste, dead vegetation, ma- 
nures, dead animal residues constitute the abundant cheap source 
of earthworm food, waiting to be utilized in a profitable manner 
through the scientific, intensive culture of domesticated earth- 

"The unseen and microscopic life of the earth beneath the 
soil is vastly greater than the animal life which we see above the 
earth as birds, beasts, and men. In fertile farm land we may 
find as high as 7,000 pounds of bacteria per acre in the super- 
ficial layers of topsoil, eternally gorging on the dead and living 
vegetable material, on each other and en dead animal residues 



all producing earthworm food, all becoming, in turn, earthworm 
food. The unseen vegetable life of the soil algae, fun-gi, 
moulds form an additional great tonnage of material that eventu- 
ally becomes earthworm food. The living network of fine roots, 
so important in holding the soil in place, constitutes about one- 
tenth by weight of the total organic matter in the upper six 
inches of soil all are eventual earthworm food. In the good 
black soils the organic matter earthworm food is represented 
by from 140 to as high as 600 tons of humus per acre. The 
earthworm will not go hungry . . ." 

About the first question people ask is, "What do you feed 
earthworms! 57 ' The above quotation from former pages indicates 
the answer to this question. In a few comprehensive words, 
the answer is : "Whatever has lived and died both vegetable and 
animal is what we feed earthworms." In this discussion of 
earthworm food we have the key to soil-building. 

In the superficial layers of earth's surface, down to the bed- 
rock, is deposited the parent mineral material of topsoil. In the 
world of vegetation and animal life we have the second great 
parent source-material of topsoil. Stated another way, we might 
say that the two parent sources of topsoil are: (1) the mineral 
surface layers of the earth; and (2) sunlight, acting upon leaf- 
green (chlorophyll) to synthesize the gaseous elements from the 
air. Then, through life-processes bacterial action, earthworm 
action, fermentation, growth, decay, etc. the parent materials 
are mixed, combined and compounded into what we know as top- 
soil ; or what Charles Darwin called "vegetable mould." 

Nature works slowly in the production of topsoil, over pe- 
riods of years, centuries, or ages. In biological soil-building, as 
we have termed it, we take the materials which nature has pro- 
vided, with the tools and forces which we have learned to use, 
and speed up the processes of nature. Thus we can build topsoil 
when we want it, where we want it, and in whatever quantity 
desired. The reason we can do this is because, for all practical 
purposes, we have inexhaustible materials and inexhaustible 


forces with which to work, limited only by our visualization and 
use of the possibilities. 

Earthworms know how to compound into topsoil the parent 
materials of topsoil. They are limited in numbers only by the 
amount of available food and we have shown that there is, from 
a practical standpoint, an unlimited supply of food. We know 
how to carry on intensive propagation to produce the necessary 
millions and billions of earthworms as they may be required. 
Each worm is a miniature "mill" for the production of topsoil. 
If given a chance, each worm will consume and pass through its 
body every twenty- four hours a weight of soil-building material 
equal to its own body weight. Considered in units of one million, 
these tiny mills produce a tremendous tonnage of topsoil in the 
course of a single year. 

The earthworm is a warm-blooded, air breathing "meat" ani- 
mal. One or two head of cattle, or a few hogs or other domestic 
animals, will weigh a ton. The combined weight of one million 
mature domesticated earthworms will approximate a ton. There 
is no essential difference between feeding other domestic animals 
to produce meat and feeding earthworms for intensive produc- 
tion. However, while the manure of other animals becomes food 
for worms, the manure of worms (castings) is topsoil which, in 
turn, nurtures all ife directly, vegetable life; indirectly, all ani- 
mal life through consumption of the vegetable. 

An old truism states that "A chain is as strong as its weakest 
link." In the chain of life, the weakest link in nature has been 
the S!QW transition of vegetable and animal life back to the soil 
for use again in the eternal cycle. In nature, the earthworm has 
been one important element of this weakest link in the chain of 
life. Now, by harnessing available materials and forces for the 
intensive propagation and use of earthworms, we have demon- 
strated that we can reinforce and transform this weakest link of 
the chain into the strongest link. 

Once we catch the vision, take hold of the principle, we can 
go on from there. It is just as obvious as sunlight. It does not 


take a scientist to utilize the principles they are so extremely 
simple. Stated in a few words, the basic principles are: Com- 
post soil-building earthworm food; add water; add worms or 
earthworm egg-capsules ; keep wet and let nature take her course. 
All variations from these simple basic principles are made for 
convenience and efficiency, regardless of whether we work in a 
small way with a box or tin can, or a specially designed culture 
bed; or work in a larger way with carefully built compost beds, 
which may contain even hundreds of tons of composted source 
materials. In earthworm culture as in other things, results will 
naturally depend upon the skill and care used in following the 
basic principle involved. 

We have written a book in an endeavor to create a mental 
picture of the most important animal in the world the earth- 
worm. When the question is asked, "Can I build topsoil?" the 
answer is "yes." And when the first question is followed by a 
second question, "How can I do it?" the answer is "Feed earth- 


Abyssinia, 44 

Africa, 23, 43-46, 57 

Agriculture, development, 11; food 

crops, 20; use of earthworms in, 

25, 65, 155; U. S. Department of, 

20, 40, 49, 173, 174 
Agricultural Treatment, An, by Sir 

Albert Howard, 149 
Anderson, W. A., 48 
Angleworms, 23, 41, 90, 92, 150 
Annelida, 26 
Aristotle, 26 
Australia, 23 

Backyard Exploration, by Paul Gris- 
wold Howes, 28 

Bacteria in Relation to Soil Fer- 
tility, by Dr. Joseph E. Greaves, 

Bear, Dr. Firman E., 40 

Biodynamic Farming, 155 

Biological Abstract, 167 

Blanck, E. 156, 166 

Blue Nile, the, 43, 44, 45 

Bollen, W. B., 156, 163, 167 

Brandling, 23, 89, 90 

Bruce Museum of Natural History, 

Caldwell, R. A., 47 

California, 47, 78, 83 

California Experiment Station, 47 

Celestial Dynamics, 171 

Ceylon, 23 

"Chemical Composition of Earth- 
worm Casts, The," by H. A. Lunt 
and H. G. M. Tacobson, 153, 154, 

China, 43, 167 

Citrus fruit raising, 78-79, 83 

Compost, 50, 68-71, 109-111, 116- 
127; pit, 68, 69-70; large beds, 
117, 123; nature's heap, 21 

Connecticut, 150, 155, 158-159 

Connecticut Agricultural Experi- 
ment Station, 153, 155 

Crop rotation, 73 

Cultivated soil, 16, 158, 159, 166, 

Culture beds, 62, 85, 123-147; con- 
struction, 134 ; drainage, 124 ; har- 
vesting, 141 ; materials, 132 ; plans 
for, 128-130; servicing, 138; 
watering, 125 

Darwin, Charles, 8, 38-40, 52, 74, 84, 
88, 94, 155, 156, 166, 177 

Dewworms, 23 

Djemil, 47 

Domesticated Earthworms, 14, 25, 
56, 82, 84-93, 95; definition, 25 

Downs, D. B., 158 

Earthmaster Earthworm Culture 
Bed, 131, 138, 139: care of, 140; 
construction, 131; harvesting, 141, 
materials, 132, 133 ; plans for, 145- 

Earthmaster Farm, 15 

Earthmaster System, 131 

Earthworm Tillage Farm, No. I, 

Earthworms, age, 100; alimentary 
canal, 26-27, 39, 87; benefits of, 
164; breeding habits, 92, 96; cal- 
ciferous glands, 29; castings, 22, 
24, 27, 29, 30, 40, 43, 46, 48, 92, 
163, 164; chemical action on soil, 
46, 49, 52, 53, 164; culture, 65, 
94, 102, 103-147; digestive system, 
26, 30, 50, 101; distribution, 23, 
87, domestication, 14, 25, 56, 82, 
84, 88, 93-95, 143; egg capsules, 
71, 73, 85, 89, 98, 99, 113; en- 
vironment, 24, 25, 61, 76; excre- 
tion of humus, 10, 13, 22 1 family, 
22; feeding habits, 28, 29, 31, 63, 
164; food, 28, 29, 35, 36, 37, 109, 


177, hybrid, 88-93; number, 40, 
41, 56, 57, 61, 62, 72, 84, 85; popu- 
lar names, 23, 90; propagation, 
61, 84, 90-94; rapidity of increase, 
118, 119; selective breeding and 
feeding, 14, 56, 57, 61-64, 84; size, 
23, 24, 25, 90; structure, 26; till- 
age, 49, 148-152, 154, 155; weight, 

"Earthworms in Role of Great Bene- 
factors of the Human Race," by 
W. A. Anderson, 48 

Earthworms of Ohio, The, by Dr. 
Henry W. Olson, % 

"Earthworms, 150,000 to the Acre," 
by Williams Haynes, 149-152 

Egypt, 14, 43, 47, 53, 57; fertility 
of soil, 46-48, 51 

England, 39, 40, 56, 84, 89 

Europe, 25 

Experiment Station Record, 166 

Farm Forum, WGY, 41 

Farm Journal and Farmer's Wife, 
149, 150 

Farming, 25, 65, 155; general, 65, 
68, 69, 74 

Faulkner, Edward H., 81, 148 

Fertilizers, chemical, 12, 78, 80, 82, 
151; organic, 61, 68, 70, 72, 82, 
148, 149; scientific, 68 

Fishworms, 23, 92, 150 

Flood Control, 41 

Florida Agricultural College, 52 

Food Crops, 20 

Forest Service, United States De- 
partment of Agriculture, 49 

Forest soil, 41-42, 160, 162 

"Forest Soil in Relation to Silvi- 
culture," by Prof. Svend O. Hei- 
berg, 42 

"Formation of Soil," by Curtis 
Fletcher Marbut, 41 

Formation of Vegetable Mould 
through the Action of Earth- 
worms, With Observations on 
Their Habits, The, by Charles 
Darwin, 38, 74, 88 

Gallup, Christopher, 149, 150-152; 

Garbage disposal, 61, 125-126, 175 


Gardening, 67, 74-75, 102, 103; 
home, 25, 32, 65, 75 

Gezira, The, 44, 45 

Giescke, F., 156, 166 

Greaves, Dr. Joseph K, 77 

Greece, 14 

"Green Color of Plants and What 
Comes of It, The," by Harold 
William Rickett, 172 

Green Earth, The, by Harold Wil- 
liam Rickett, 172 

Han ford Loam, 78-88 

Harnessing the Earthworm, 13, 74, 
93, 153, 155 

Harrowing, 151 

Harvard University, 35 

Haynes, Williams, 150 

Heiberg, Prof, Svend O., 41, 42 

Helodrilus foetidus, 24 

Helodrilus trapezoides, 97 

Hensen, V., 156, 166 

H., H. A., 119 

Hilgard, Dr. E. W., 47 

Hinckley, Frank, 78-83, 148 

Howard, Sir Albert, 149 

Howes, Paul Griswold, 28 

Humus, 9, 10, 13; acid, 39; defini- 
tion, 20; distribution, 20, 21, 36; 
"factory of nature," 13, 21, 22, 
73; fertility of, 46; formation of, 
21, 22 ; source, 13, 20, 23, 30, 37 

Hybrid Earthworms, 88-93 

Illinois, 41 
Irrigation, 80 

Jacobson, H. G. M., 153, 158 
Japan, 43 

Journal of Agricultural Science, 167 
Journal of Experimental Biology, 


Journal of Forestry, 42 
Journal of the Linnean Society, 

Bol, 167 

Khartoum, 43, 44 
Knop, 52 

Lactuca sativa, 157 
Landwehr Jahrbuch, 166 
Landwehr Jahrbuch, Schweiz, 167 
Lawns, 40, 48, 89, 90 

Life Cycle, The, 9, 12, 15, 20, 34,69, 

77, 178 

Lindquist, B., 157, 167 
Lord, Russell, 171 
Lug boxes, 51, 103-127; compost 

for, 109-112; gunny sacks, 106; 

harvesting, 114-116; impregnation, 

113; loading, 112; marking, 116; 

plans for, 120, 121 ; preparation, 

108; separators, 105; supports, 

105; watering, 101, 114 
Lumbricus terrestris, 23, 90, 97 
Lunt, H. A., 153, 158 

Man and the Earth, by Nathaniel 
Southgate Shaler, 35 

Manure, 25, 70, 110, 126, 149; earth- 
worm, 178 

Manure worm, 24, 25, 89, 96 

Marbut, Curtis Fletcher, 41 

Mason, Arthur J., 41 

Mechanization, 12, 80 

Megascolides Australis, 23 

Miscellaneous Publications, United 
States Department of Agricul- 
ture, 171 

M., Roy S., 118 

M tiller, 156 

Murinov, A., 51 

"My Grandfather's Earthworm 
Farm," by Dr. George Sheffield 
Oliver, 66-76, 82, 87, 148, 149 

New York State College of Forest- 
ry, 41, 42 
Night crawlers, 23 
Night lions, 23, 90 
Nile Valley, The, 43-47, 56, 67 
Non-cultivation method, The, 78-80 

Ohio, 65, 66, 67, 72, 84, 87, 88 

Ohio Biological Survey, 72, 96 

Ohio State University, 72 

Ohio State University Farm, 40, 72 

Oligochacta, 23 

Oliver, Dr. George Sheffield, 65, 66, 


Olson, Dr. Henry W., 96 
Orchards, 74, 75, 76-83, 102; use of 

earthworms in, 25, 82, 83, 117 
Orchard worm, 90, 97 
Oregon Agricultural Experiment 

Station, 26 

Pheretima bucculenta, 157 

Phylum annelida, 23 

Plans, for Culture Beds, 128-130; 

for Earthmaster Culture Beds, 145, 
147; for Lug Boxes, 120, 121 

Plowing, 40, 71, 72, 75, 82, 148, 151 

Plowman's Folly, by Edward H. 
Faulkner, 81, 148 

Powers, W. L., 26, 156, 163, 167 

Principles and Practice of Agri- 
cultural Analysis, by Dr. Harvey 
W. Wiley, 30 

Productive Soils : The Fundamentals 
of Successful Soil Management 
and Profitable Crop Management, 
by Wilbur Walter Weir, 48 

Puh, P. C., 156, 157, 163, 167 

Rainworms, 23, 24, 90, 97 

Resistance to pests and plant dis- 
eases, 55 

Rickett, Harold William, 172 

Robertson, J. D., 156, 157 

Rocks and Soils : Their Origin, Com- 
position, and Characteristics, by 
Dr. Horace Edward Stockbridge, 

Rubins, E. J., 158 
Russell, E. J., 155, 165, 167 

Salisbury, E. J., 156, 167 

Science Society of China, Biological 
Laboratory Contribution, Zoolog- 
ical Service, 167 

Shaler, Nathaniel Southgate, 34, 35 

Sheffield, George, 66, 76 

Small-bristled ringed worm, 23 

Soil, bacteria, 36, 76, 77, 163, 177; 
building, 12, 13, 14, 15, 32, 33, 34, 
35, 37, 42-46, 57, 62, 64, 76, 170, 
173, 174; chemical elements, 22, 
29, 30, 35, 49, 51, 52, 53, 54; 
definition of, 34; destruction of, 
12; source of plant and animal 
life, 13, 20, 31, 35, 170; subsoil, 
48, 49, 74, 164; chemical elements 
of, 49; plowing, 74; topsoil, 13, 
22, 32, 35, 42, 48, 49, 50, 52, 173, 
177-179; mass production of, 42, 
57, 175, 177, 179 

Soil and Cultivation, by Milton 
Whitney, 173 

Soil Science, 155, 167 


Soils, Bureau of, United States De- 
partment of Agriculture, 173 

"Soils and Men," by Curtis Fletcher 
Marbut, 41 

Soils -.Their Formation, Properties, 
Composition, and Relation to Cli- 
mate and Plant Growth, by Dr. 
E. W. Hilgard, 47 

South America, 23, 172 

South Pasadena Review, 48 

Stinking earthworm, 24 

Stockbridge, Dr. Horace Edward, 52 

Stockli, A., 157, 167 

Subsoil, 48, 49, 74; chemical ele- 
ments, 49; plowing, 74 

Sudan, 43, 53 

Sun power, 171, 172 

Svensk Skogsvardsfor. Tidskr., 167 

Tana Lake, 44 

Theory and Practice in the Use of 

Fertilizers, by Dr. Firman E. 

Bear, 40 
To Hold This Soil, by Russell Lord, 

Topsoil 13, 22, 32, 35, 42, 48, 49, 50, 

52, 173, 177-179; mass-production 

of, 42, 57, 175, 177, 179 
Transactions of the Geological 

Society, London, 166 

United States, 20, 23, 56, 8V 
United States Department of Agri- 
culture, 20, 41, 49, 174; Bureau of 
Soils, 173; Experiment Station 
Record, 43, 51; Miscellaneous 
Publications, 171, 174; Yearbook 
for 1938, 41 ; Department of Agri- 
culture Yearbook, 20 
University of California, 47 
University of Wisconsin, 49 
Utah Agricutural College, 77 

Vegetable Mould, 38, 177 

Weir, Dr. Wilbur Walter, 48 
WGY Farm Forum, 41 
White, Gilbert, 155 
White Nile, the, 43 
Whitney, Milton, 173 
Wiley, Dr. Harvey W., 30 
Wolff, 52 
Wolney, 47 

Yearbook of the United States De- 
partment of Agriculture for 1938, 

Yearbook of the United States De- 
partment of Agriculture Statistics, 

(Continued from front flap) 

Earthworm and Its Environment," includ 
the earthworm in nature and in scient 
literature. Part II presents "The Ear 
worm Under Control," revealing the me 
ods which have enabled the author to t 
a barren desert hillside into a luxuriant p; 
disc. The photographs, charts, diagra 
and working drawings are valuable aids 

". . . . the directions for culture and 
on either small or large scale, are spec 
and concise." American Library Asso, 
tion Booklist. 


Thomas J. Barrett was born in Coll 
Grove, Tennessee, in 1884. Educated 
Ruskin University, Northwestern Acadei 
American College of Osteopathic Medic 
and Surgery, and Chicago College of Mi 
cine and Surgery, he has been physic 
printer, reporter, editor, soldier, and : 
lance news photographer in Canada, Mex 
and the United States. Trained for map 
production in the field he served throi 
World War I with the lllth United St; 
Engineers. In 1936 he began earthworm ; 
soil-building research, establishing "Ear 
master Farms," Roscoe, Calif., as an exp 
mental center. He spent nearly 3 years ; 
laboratory assistant in plant physiology 
California Institute of Technology. He 
contributor to Magazine Digest, Encyt 
[n'dia Britannica, Jr., and other publicatic 
He is the author of Eartbivorms: Their 
tensive Propagation and Use in Biolog 
Soil -Build ing, The Pruning Knife, 
other scientific and popular writings. I 
ture articles about "Earthmaster Farn 
with pictures, have appeared in many le 
ing newspapers and magazines through 
the world. 

YOUR OWN BUSINESS by Norman Edwards 

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Bibliography. Index. $2.75 


Standard text for veterinarians and dairymen. Deals with surgical as well 
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ANIMALS OF THE SEASHORE by Horace G. Richards 

By a distinguished scientist, this manual is a useful guide to the inverte- 
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GARDEN WISE AND OTHERWISE by Joshua Freeman Crawell 

A poetic encyclopedia for the garden lover bits of horticultural informa- 
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